NHS chief’s job security fracturing as pressure builds

Signs of movement are starting to emerge from Whitehall over the future of embattled NHS chief David Nicholson, who will face further calls for his resignation in the Commons later.

Campaigning backbenchers led by Tory Charlotte Leslie are debating 'accountability and transparency in the NHS' on the day health secretary Jeremy Hunt bans gagging clauses silencing whistleblowers.

The move, which will end the practice of silencing NHS staff via clauses in their severance packages, is being welcomed by campaigners but is unlikely to help Nicholson's prospects.

He faces calls to quit over his responsibility for the 1,200 unnecessary deaths which occurred at Stafford hospital between 2005 and 2009.

A senior Whitehall source told the Telegraph newspaper that Nicholson was viewed as "absolutely crucial" to the government's NHS reforms, which he has overseen since the damagingly protracted process of securing the changes in law begun in 2010.

Now they are being implemented Nicholson's job is viewed as critical in the short-term. David Cameron again underlined his view there should be no "scapegoats" for unnecessary deaths at Stafford hospital and elsewhere in prime minister's questions yesterday.

But there are now suggestions that Nicholson, who now chairs the NHS commissioning board, could be forced to go early in a 'pre-announced' resignation.

"There is obviously an appreciation that the head of the NHS cannot be attacked day in, day out by politicians and the relatives of victims as he simply cannot continue to get on with his job in that environment," the source explained.

"He hasn't done anything wrong but it's getting to the point politically and morally where someone has to be seen to have taken responsibility for Mid Staffordshire."

Leslie, who is leading the fight against Nicholson from the government backbenches, is now focusing her efforts on the apparent cover-up of three reports into the state of the NHS which Nicholson claims he knew nothing about.

"The urgent alarm bells sounding in these reports should have been published and acted upon with all speed," she wrote in an article for ConservativeHome.

"But someone, or some people, decided to suppress their publication and to bury them – hiding them even from the health select committee.

"If we take David Nicholson's almost unbelievable claim that he knew nothing about these major reports at face value, he has directed our attention to others to find out who buried these potent reports, putting Labour’s political health above patient safety."