CQC: Hunt urges calls for serious action if cover-up proved

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

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said there should be "very, very serious consequences" for anyone found guilty of a cover-up at the Care Quality Commission.

He said he would support disciplinary action if allegations against individuals are proved.

Mr Hunt said the healthcare regulator for England was "fundamentally flawed" when it was set up four years ago.

But he backed the new management team now running the CQC.

However, Amanda Pollard, a former CQC inspector who left after she became disillusioned, warns there may be more scandals ahead.

She told the BBC: "The managers were very concerned about their own reputations and keeping the reputation of the CQC squeaky clean.

"But in doing so they lost sight of what they ought to be doing, and that was properly inspecting."

The Care Quality Commission was formed in 2009 by the merger of three other regulators: the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care, and the Mental Health Act Commission.

As well as hospitals, the CQC oversees GPs, dentists, and thousands of care homes.

But critics say the regulator is now too big to do its job properly.

A spokeswoman for the National Care Association said the CQC was "not really fit for purpose".

Legal action

The current controversy stems from the deaths of babies and mothers in Cumbria from 2008 at Furness General Hospital, run by the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, and how that was investigated.

More than 30 families have now taken legal action against the hospital.

The trust was 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An investigation by consultants Grant Thornton, made public this week, found that that report remained unpublished because it was decided it was too critical of the CQC.

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

Denials

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 said that any suggestion she had asked for the report to be deleted was untrue, adding that she had made sure it was given to Grant Thornton for their review.

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".

Mr 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.

He told the BBC: "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."

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