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

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent, BBC News

Media caption,
David Behan "I will take legal advice tomorrow on publishing names... I'm going to take different advice"

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".

"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.

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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