Sir David Nicholson has insisted he “absolutely refutes” allegations he has been complicit in a “cover up” about the use of gagging orders in the NHS.

The NHS England chief executive told the Public Accounts Committee accusations that he misled MPs and took part in a “systematic cover-up” of secret deals used to buy NHS staff’s silence were “entirely inappropriate”.  

As first reported on HSJ Live yesterday, he told the committee he had always taken his responsibilities to Parliament “very seriously”.

He added: “I can absolutely refute I have ever been involved in any kind of cover up in relation to the expenditure identified.

“I can also say in terms of my career in the NHS I have also supported people who stood up against the system.

“Connecting me with some kind of cover up is entirely inappropriate and I completely refute it.

“There has been all sorts of stuff said this morning that is completely untrue.”

He also lashed out at what he perceived as misconceptions about compromise agreements.

“Compromise agreements are used widely both in the NHS and the private sector and in the wider public sector - that does not necessarily mean that someone has been stopped speaking about patient safety,” he said, “To connect the two all the time is erroneous and wrong.”

The allegations were made after the Daily Telegraph reported Stephen Barclay, a Conservative member of the PAC, had obtained figures showing at least 52 staff have been silenced using the orders since 2008, some of which individually cost as much as £500,000.

All are thought to contain confidentiality clauses, the paper said.