NHS 'cover-up': MPs to quiz Care Quality Commission bosses

Jeremy Hunt: "We are moving very fast to turn it round"

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The current bosses of an NHS regulator are set to be summoned by MPs to discuss an alleged cover-up over the deaths of babies at a Cumbria hospital.

On Thursday the Care Quality Commission named the people accused of suppressing a report on its failings over the inspection of Furness General Hospital.

MPs want to question the CQC's chief executive and chairman - but CEO David Behan defended his handling of events.

The health secretary said he had confidence in the new management team.

'Difficult circumstances'

More than 30 families have now taken legal action against Furness General - run by Morecambe Bay NHS Trust - in relation to baby and maternal deaths and injuries from 2008.

The trust had been given a clean bill of health in 2010 by the CQC, but an internal review was ordered by the hospital regulator in 2011 into how the deaths and injuries had gone unnoticed.

An investigation by consultants Grant Thornton, which was made public this week, found that report was not made public because it was decided it was too critical of the CQC.

Start Quote

Yet again this week it [the CQC] has been revealed... to have been not fit for purpose”

End Quote Stephen Dorrell Chairman, Commons health committee

Grant Thornton concluded this "might well have constituted a deliberate cover-up" by the CQC employees who deemed it should not be made public.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged he did not have very much confidence in the CQC at the moment, but said he had confidence that new people appointed would turn the organisation around.

"What I really wanted to do was to start inspecting hospitals in a rigorous way, in a way that we have, for example, with schools under Ofsted where the public know just how good their local school is, because someone they trust, someone who's an expert has come in and looked at that school without fear or favour and given a verdict," he told BBC Breakfast.

Commons health committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said he wanted Mr Behan and CQC chairman David Prior to explain the CQC's failure to respond properly to the deaths to MPs.

The Conservative MP said: "Yet again this week it's been revealed, in the words of David Prior the chairman, to have been not fit for purpose.

"What's important to patients is that the people who are now in charge of the CQC have to demonstrate in public, convincingly and quickly, how they are going to build the effectiveness of this organisation so that it can deliver the regulatory function that we pay for and need."

'Open and transparent'

But Mr Behan told BBC Newsnight he was doing his best in "very difficult circumstances", adding: "I'm demonstrating leadership.

"I've had dozens upon dozens of messages from members of staff who believe I'm acting in an appropriate way and actually creating an open and transparent culture in the CQC and are supportive of what I've been doing. I am part of leading CQC forward."

Cynthia Bower and Jill Finney Cynthia Bower (left) and Jill Finney are two of the officials named

Mr Behan said the CQC had made its initial decision on naming those accused based on legal advice, but admitted: "I think we got that wrong... we're putting that right.

The CQC said the officials alleged to have been involved were former chief executive Cynthia Bower, her deputy Jill Finney and media manager Anna Jefferson.

They were all said to be present at a meeting where deletion of a critical report was allegedly discussed.

Ms Bower and Ms Jefferson have denied being involved in a cover-up.

Ms Finney has not yet commented. She has been sacked from her current job as chief commercial officer at Nominet which controls the .co.uk web domain, because of "increasing public scrutiny".

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt is to give a speech later on the need to reduce sub-standard care in the NHS in England.

But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has accused the government of acting too slowly - and has called on Mr Hunt to implement the recommendations of the Francis Report into the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal.

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