NHS hospital watchdog accused of cover up
THE father of a newborn boy who died in a hospital where mothers and babies died through neglect says claims that the healthcare watchdog covered up a failure to investigate are "shocking".
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is accused of deliberately suppressing an internal review that highlighted weaknesses in its inspections of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, the Daily Telegraph said.
James Titcombe's baby son Joshua died aged just nine days old in Furness General Hospital in 2008 after staff failed to spot and treat an infection, sparking a police investigation.
He said the report was shocking, telling Sky News: "It embodies everything that is wrong with the culture in the NHS. It's something that's been rotten really about the system.
"We need it to change. We need that culture to change.
"Patient safety should be the number one priority, and organisations that work within regulation need to be aligned with that principle."
Concerns about the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria came to light in 2008, but the CQC gave the Morecambe Bay trust the all-clear in 2010.
A leaked report due out today found that the health watchdog bosses were so concerned about how damning the review would be that they ordered it should never be made public and that it should be destroyed, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Tim Farron, MP for South Lakes, has called for an urgent question to be tabled in the House of Commons regarding the claims.
The CQC's chairman, David Prior, said it was a "shocking state of affairs" and told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm desperately sorry that this happened."
Mr Titcombe told Today the report showed a "multitude of very serious failures" and was "quite hard to believe".
He said there were wider questions about the NHS, claiming evidence was given to the Francis Inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire scandal that there was "possibly ministerial pressure on the CQC not to cause trouble at that period of time".
"These aspects haven't been looked at in the detail that I believe they need to be looked at," he said.
Mr Prior, who took up his post with CQC earlier this year, told the programme: "This is a shocking state of affairs and I'm desperately sorry that this happened. It's hard when you look back on it to see how could this have happened?"
He was scathing about the CQC's management at the time, telling Today: "There's an old saying the fish rots from the head.
"The board and the senior executive were totally dysfunctional. That results in bad behaviour further down the line.
"The chairman, the chief executive, the deputy chairman have all gone and that is right, there was no pay-off or anything like that, they have gone."
Mr Prior said he was not aware of the details of the Morecambe Bay case until Friday last week, but he added: "I have known for the last three months that we were not fit for purpose when it came to hospital inspections and that we had to fundamentally change the way we were doing it."
1Mr Prior defended the decision to publish the report with the names of those involved redacted, arguing that the CQC could have been sued if that had not been done.
Mr Titcombe said he was concerned that the report was anonymous, adding: "There are questions about whether that reflects the direction the NHS should be going in, in terms of openness and transparency."
Mr Prior told Today he understood Mr Titcombe's concerns: "I don't blame him, frankly. We had to make the decision on Friday whether to publish the report without the names, or to keep the report private with the names in.
"Otherwise we would have been breaching the Data Protection Act."
He said the "overriding interest was to put this in the public domain, that's why we anonymised the report".
The report reveals that a CQC official was ordered last year to destroy the review.
In accounts of discussions between senior managers about what to do with the findings, one senior manager said: "Are you kidding me? This can never be in a public domain nor subject to FOI (a freedom of information request). Read my lips."
An official who carried out the review was asked to delete it and write a different review without criticism of the CQC.
Mr Farron, who is also the president of the Liberal Democrats, said the report suggested an "appalling failure" by the CQC.
"What the report today demonstrates is that it would appear that there was a deliberate suppression of facts that, had they come to light, could have saved lives," he said.
"That is bordering on criminal and we need to look at whether it was criminal."
He said Mr Prior and CQC chief executive David Behan should be commended for publishing the report today, but people needed to see the action as well as the words of their apology.
He also called on the Department of Health to lift a "Sword of Damocles" hanging over the Trust in the form of £25 million of savings it needs to make from its budget, saying it could compound problems at its hospitals.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will make a Commons statement on the CQC report at around 1.30pm, with shadow health secretary Andy Burnham responding, the Labour whips office said.