NHS watchdog accused of covering up failings

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the healthcare regulator in England, has been accused of covering up an internal review revealing critical failings, which may have lead to the death of mothers and babies under care.

The independent report making the accusation looked into the CQC’s response to several complaints over the deaths of newborns at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria. Problems with the maternity unit emerged in 2008, but it was cleared by the CQC in 2010. When issues were brought to its attention the following year, an internal review was conducted. The results of this review were so damning, it is alleged, that senior management decided it should never be in the public domain.

Today’s report is scathing. It concludes:

We think that the information contained in the report was sufficiently important that the deliberate failure to provide it could properly be characterised as a 'cover-up'.

The report is due to be published later, although a copy was obtained ahead of schedule by BBC Radio 4. Speaking on the station’s Today programme, Commons health select committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said it made for “extremely depressing reading” and that the behaviour was “unacceptable”.

On Sky News this morning, chairman of the CQC David Prior said he knew it was not "fit for purpose" when he took over in January 2013 and is “desperately sorry” to the relatives of the deceased. He said that previous failures are “not ongoing”, but that the regulator would be changing “fundamentally”.

The alleged cover-up in its regulatory body will also be a blow to the NHS, which has faced controversy over standards of care and the use of gagging orders. Last week, a YouGov poll found that 51 per cent of British adults do not trust the NHS to be open and honest about its services and standards of care – compared to 41 per cent who do not trust the health service.

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