Ex-CQC executives deny Cumbria baby death cover-up claim

Joshua Titcombe Joshua Titcombe died nine days after being born at Furness General Hospital

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Two former executives at the centre of allegations of a cover-up by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have denied suppressing a critical internal report.

Last week an independent report into the CQC's investigation of baby deaths at Furness General Hospital found evidence of a possible cover-up.

But Cynthia Bower - chief executive of the regulator until February - and her deputy, Jill Finney, deny attempting to suppress the report.

They said it "required further work".

Ms Bower told the Independent newspaper she had been "hung out to dry" over the matter.

Speaking about claims of a cover-up agreed among senior CQC staff, she said: "I categorically deny the words that have been put in people's mouths."

She also criticised the investigation carried out by accountants Grant Thornton, whose report highlighted the alleged cover-up.

"We weren't given an opportunity to respond," she said. "When X says one thing and Y another, how do you reach a judgement? What is the standard of proof?"

Ms Bower earlier said she "gave no instruction to delete" the internal review, but added that as the boss of the healthcare watchdog: "The buck stops with me."

More than 30 families have now taken legal action against the Cumbria hospital in relation to baby and maternal deaths and injuries from 2008.

Police are investigating the 2008 death of one baby, Joshua Titcombe, nine days after he was born at Furness General. An inquest ruled Joshua died as a result of natural causes, but staff missed opportunities to save him.

The CQC had given the hospital - run by Morecambe Bay NHS Trust - a clean bill of health in 2010, but an internal review was eventually ordered by the regulator in 2011 into how the deaths and injuries had gone unnoticed.

'Not satisfactory'

That review was not made public - and according to Grant Thornton, it was buried because it was too critical of the CQC.

Grant Thornton said it was suppressed following a meeting with the review's author involving Ms Finney, then chief executive Ms Bower and media manager Anna Jefferson in March 2012.

Cynthia Bower and Jill Finney Cynthia Bower and Jill Finney (right) both deny deciding to delete the internal review

When Ms Finney was asked about the meeting, she told Grant Thornton she could not remember that far back.

But Grant Thornton said they were inclined to believe the deletion allegations - made by the author of the internal report Louise Dineley - as she was able to provide a contemporaneous note of the meeting.

The Grant Thornton report said "of the four accounts we were given during the course of the of our enquiries, we find [Dineley's] version the most reliable".

Ms Finney told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "At that meeting we reviewed the report and the report concluded that the activity that CQC had undertaken at Morecambe Bay was satisfactory."

But she said details within the report made it "quite clear" its conclusion was too positive and that the "CQC should have done more".

She added: "So at that meeting we agreed that the report required much further work.

"There was not a decision at that meeting to delete that report, nor was there an instruction."

Ms Finney said Grant Thornton had refused to listen to her - or to Ms Bower and Ms Jefferson - when they attempted to put their side of the story.

"We made several representations to Grant Thornton about the accuracy of the way in which they were recording the information, and the way in which they were beginning to treat one allegation as fact," she said.

"In spite of those representations, Grant Thornton did not reply, and did not change the way in which the allegations were presented."

Ms Jefferson, who is still an employee of the CQC, said she "would never have conspired to cover up anything which could have led to a better understanding of what went wrong in the regulation of this hospital".

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the CQC was "fundamentally flawed" when it was set up four years ago and there should be "very, very serious consequences" for anyone found guilty of a cover-up.

Robert Francis QC, who reported on the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundational Trust scandal, said there needed to be a "change in attitude" at the CQC.

But the leader of the British Medical Association, Dr Mark Porter, said changes already made to the CQC should be allowed to bed in and ministers should resist the temptation to step in, despite the current crisis.

Dr Porter said: "I think it is absolutely not the time to decide we need to reorganise it all from top to bottom again."

Cumbrian Police says it is considering the Grant Thornton report.

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