CQC 'to reveal NHS cover-up names' ministers say

David Behan "We've commissioned a review of that legal advice to see if we can put this information into the public domain"

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England's NHS regulator will name some officials accused of covering up a failure to investigate deaths of babies at a Cumbria hospital, ministers say.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the move - which has yet to be confirmed by the Care Quality Commission - was pleasing.

It comes after mounting pressure on the regulator to name managers who apparently blocked publication of a critical report.

CQC managers are currently in a meeting discussing the issue.

Although ahead of that meeting, CQC chief executive David Behan said he was exploring all legal means possible to see if the names could be released.

Mr Hunt said he was "very pleased".

How inspection regime has improved

The Care Quality Commission has been quick to point out that its inspections have been improved. But what does this mean in practice?

Over the last two years more than 200 extra inspectors have been taken on, bringing the total close to 1,000.

These include people with a background of working in hospitals, care homes and other health settings as well as people from other professions, such as the police, who have an expertise in investigations.

The inspection teams are made up of people from these different backgrounds.

There is also a network of 200 external experts, such as surgeons, senior nurses and pharmacists who are on hand to lend specialist advice and help when needed.

"I think this is a sign that the NHS is changing - because we've had a history of cover-ups going on many, many years and now what's happening is that when there was an issue the new management of the CQC immediately asked for an independent report.

"They published that report yesterday and now as I understand it they've got legal advice that says they can issue the names of the people mentioned in that report. And I think that's so important because there has to be accountability inside the NHS for people's actions and people have to know where the buck stops when something goes wrong."

The alleged decision to block publication of the report emerged on Wednesday when the CQC published a report it had commissioned from consultants Grant Thornton.

The firm was asked by the health regulator to investigate its failure to spot the problems at Furness General Hospital, run by the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

In 2010 it gave the hospital a clean bill of health despite problems emerging about the maternity unit.

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

Grant Thornton found that in 2011 an internal review was ordered into how the problems had gone unnoticed.

But in March 2012 it was decided the findings should not be made public because the review was highly critical of the regulator.

That order is said to have come from a senior manager who has not been named and who denies the allegations.

The Grant Thornton report said this "might well have constituted a deliberate cover-up".

'Good faith'

The CQC though removed the names of those involved, arguing it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

But this was then rejected by Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

Data protection laws

The 1998 Data Protection Act details how personal information is used by organisations, businesses and government.

It demands that information is used fairly and legally, is accurate, used for specifically stated purposes and is kept secure.

There have been numerous occasions where data protection has been wrongly cited as a reason something should not happen.

In 2010 the Information Commissioner was forced to warn schools that they could not use it to ban parents from taking pictures of their children in nativity plays.

Its use by police as a defence for not sharing information about Soham killer Ian Huntley was also described as wrong.

In this case the application of the law hangs on whether the public interest outweighs the expectation that actions in a private meeting should not lead to an individual being named.

He said: "What appeared to be going on yesterday was a sort of general duck-out saying, 'Oh, data protection, sorry can't help you,' that's all too common and in this case it certainly looked as if data protection really wasn't the issue."

He said he could not order the CQC to reverse its decision but said he was glad it was looking at the issue.

"So far as the Data Protection Act is concerned, we all have a right to the protection of our personal privacy but if you are a senior official then there are issues about the point at which your privacy is set aside because of over-riding public interest. That's really the issue at stake here," he said.

Mr Behan said he had been advised that "to put people's personal data [into the report] would be a breach of their rights".

"I was acting on the legal advice I was given, I acted in good faith," he told Newsnight.

He said he had "listened to what the information commissioner has said".

He added: "We've decided today that we will review that legal advice and we've commissioned a review of that legal advice to see if we can put this information into the public domain."

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