NHS chief Sir David Nicholson was roundly criticised by MPs today for misleading them over the extent of pay-offs to prevent "whistleblowers" speaking out about concerns over patient safety.
He is accused of not telling them that the NHS had spent more than £2 million on gagging orders for former employees since 2008 - a figure revealed by a Freedom of Information request.
Sir David angrily denied staging a cover-up when he appeared before the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship reports:
The head of the NHS in England has strongly denied staging a "cover-up" over the use of gagging orders to prevent staff speaking out about conditions in hospitals.
Appearing before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Sir David Nicholson angrily denounced the claims made by Tory committee member Stephen Barclay as "erroneous and wrong".
Sir David - who is leaving after strong criticism over his role in the Mid Staffs NHS trust scandal - told the committee that he had always acted to support whistleblowers in the NHS.
"I can absolutely refute that I have ever been involved in any kind of cover-up in relation to the expenditure that's identified. I have been absolutely honest and truthful with this committee," he said.
He added: "I have always supported people who have stood out against the system. It is a very, very important part of being a health professional and being a leader in the NHS..."
Health Minister Norman Lamb has told ITV Daybreak that he was "horrified" by the revelation that the NHS spent £2 million on more than 50 gagging orders.
Tory MP Steve Barclay has today called for Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of NHS England, to stand down following the news.
Mr Lamb said: "[Sir David Nicholson] should be accountable for what he said. People have to answerable for their actions."
"I had a sense that it happens too much, but it shouldn't happen at all. It's scandalous."
Read more: NHS spends £2m to stop staff speaking out
Speaking about the revelations that the NHS spent £2 million on more than 50 gagging orders, Conservative MP Steve Barclay - who is calling for NHS boss Sir David Nicholson to resign - said: "A lot of money seems to have been wasted silencing the very people we want to speak out."
Read more: NHS spends £2m to stop staff speaking out
The head of NHS England Sir David Nicholson faces fresh calls for his resignation after it emerges £2 million has been spent silencing hospital staff.
ITV Daybreak's Sue Jameson reports:
In March, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt banned the use of gagging clauses in compromise agreements.
The move followed calls for a culture of "openness and transparency" in the NHS after the Mid Staffordshire scandal in which as many as 1,200 patients are thought to have died.
However a Freedom of Information Act request has today revealed that hospitals have spent £2 million on top of the £15m on more than 50 gagging orders.
But the government says that the March figures did not include "judicially mediated" settlements, meaning that the Government had no chance to block them.
The Department of Health said the system had been changed so that all severance payments were properly scrutinised.
A spokesman said: "Judicial mediation payments do not mean that someone is gagged - it is a way of resolving a dispute and suitable cases for this are decided on by a judge.
"The Department did not collect data on these payments prior to February 2013.
"This has now changed - all non-contractual severance payments, whether via judicial mediation or another means, need to be scrutinised by a national body.
"Judicial mediation payments cannot prevent staff from speaking out about matters on patient safety or in the public interest."
In response to the revelations that hospitals have spent £2 million on more than 50 gagging orders preventing staff speaking out, the Department of Health have said:
– A Department of Health spokesman
NHS staff are protected by the law, regardless of when their payment was made and whether or not it was via judicial payment or any other means.
The Health Secretary has been absolutely clear that "gagging" is illegal and it will not be tolerated.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that at least 52 staff have been silenced using the orders since 2008, some of which cost as much as £500,000.
Tory MP Steve Barclay, who obtained the figures, has called for Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of NHS England, to stand down:
It is simply not plausible that the man who was supposed to be running the NHS was seemingly unaware that employees threatening to speak out were being offered golden goodbyes in return for a vow of silence.
The culture in the NHS needs to change, he has to stand down now. What patient safety concerns have been covered up (by these gagging orders)? How many lives have been put at risk?
A Tory MP has called for the chief executive of NHS England to stand down following revelations hospitals have spent £2 million on gagging orders on staff.
Hospitals have spent £2 million on more than 50 gagging orders preventing staff speaking out, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed.
Steve Barclay has accused NHS chief Sir David Nicholson of either failing to ask questions about the orders or being "complicit in a cover-up".
Sir David will retire as NHS England's chief executive next year but Mr Barclay said he should stand down now because the culture in the health service had to change.
The Daily Telegraph reports that at least 52 staff have been silenced using the orders since 2008, some of which cost as much as £500,000. All are thought to contain confidentiality clauses.