The General Medical Council has launched an investigation into a complaint against national director for commissioning development Dame Barbara Hakin, HSJ can reveal.

The complaint alleges Dame Barbara, a former GP, placed United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust under pressure in 2009 to prioritise hitting waiting time and A&E targets ahead of patient safety, amid warnings the trust was over capacity. The complaint relates to her tenure as chief executive of the former East Midlands Strategic Health Authority.

Emails obtained by HSJ reveal the medical watchdog has instructed lawyers from London-based Field, Fisher Waterhouse to investigate the complaint. They have been asked to speak to former United Lincolnshire chief executive Gary Walker and chairman David Bowles, as well as other staff from the trust.

An email from 6 August, signed by Caroline Jaggard, a senior associate at the firm, said: “We have been instructed by the GMC to assist in the investigation of your complaint against Dr (Dame) Barbara Hakin.

“Assuming that you are happy for the complaint to be disclosed to Dr Hakin… the investigation will begin as soon as possible.”

The process could result in the GMC deciding to take no further action, issue Dame Barbara with a warning, refer her to a fitness to practise panel where she could be struck off, or negotiate undertakings to allow her to keep her registration.

The initial complaint was made earlier this year by medical journalists Phil Hammond and Andrew Bousfield.

A dossier was sent to the GMC and included minutes from meetings of the trust management and letters from clinicians and trust managers raising concern. It also included a note allegedly written by Dame Barbara in April 2009 to SHA chairman John Brigstocke which said United Lincolnshire needed “to meet targets whatever the demand”.

United Lincolnshire had significant capacity problems during the winter of 2008-9, with bed occupancy levels at 96 per cent or higher between November and January, according to an SHA report from 2009.

In June that year the trust board made a resolution, in private, that it would not give an undertaking to meet targets due to concerns about patient safety and capacity problems.

Chairman David Bowles resigned in the summer of 2009 and went public with his concerns over SHA “bullying” to meet targets.

A 2009 probe led by former Greater Manchester SHA chief executive Neil Goodwin cleared the SHA and found no evidence of bullying.

United Lincolnshire chief executive Gary Walker was sacked for allegedly swearing in February 2010 after seven months off sick with stress. He brought an unfair dismissal claim but has since accepted a compromise agreement and payment thought to be worth more than £500,000.

In his initial complaint to the GMC Dr Hammond claimed: “This evidence shows the possibility that Dr Hakin has insisted on targets being met and has failed to understand the damage to surgical interests and to patients from that insistence.”

The GMC said it does not comment on investigations but confirmed Dr Hakin was fully registered with a licence to practise.

Dame Barbara Hakin declined to comment.