Under fire NHS boss denies he misled Parliament

Sir David Nicholson, after facing MPs today. Photo: Press Association

The man in charge of the NHS in England has denied claims he misled Parliament and covered up whistleblowing in the health service.

Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of NHS England, has been answering questions from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

One of the committee members, the Conservative MP Stephen Barclay, obtained figures under the Freedom of Information Act which show that at least 52 members of NHS staff have been silenced using gagging orders.

Previously, Sir David told the committee, that he had been aware of only one confidentiality clause in a pay-off of a member of staff.

The NHS boss is due to retire next year. He had refused to resign, as camaigners had insisted, in the wake of the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospital.

Campaigner Julie Bailey was one of many calling for Nicholson to resign in February. Credit: Press Association

The MP who obtained these new figures says Sir David should now step down with immediate effect.

However, the NHS chief executive insisted to MPs that the confidentiality clauses do not necessarily mean a staff member or potential whistleblower has been prevented from speaking about wrongdoing. To connect them all he said was "erroneous and wrong."

"I absolutely refute that I have been involved in any cover up," he told the committee, adding that confidentiality agreements are "used widely in the NHS … and do not mean somebody has to stop speaking about patient safety."

Sir David is due to step down from his role in March 2014. He's now under pressure to leave his job with immediate effect.

"He's part of the old culture," Steve Barclay told ITV News today, "Sir David should go sooner, not later."