CQC 'failed' whistle-blowers and did not win public trust

I think I've uncovered a new strategy used by organisations whose reputation is under threat. Hire a new broom at the top - but make sure he or she is a northerner. In media interviews, a down-to-earth northern accent just sounds more honest.

Take the Care Quality Commission - the watchdog that's meant to inspect hospitals and care homes to make sure they're treating patients well and with respect. Almost since it was founded in 2009, the CQC has been under a barrage of criticism from all sides.

The latest came today in a report from the all-party Select Committee of MPs on Health. The CQC, they said, has failed to earn the public's trust. It has failed to define its core purpose. It treated whistle-blowers badly.

The Care Quality Commission regulates health and social care services in England. Credit: PA

Above all, it failed to recognise evidence that things were going wrong - for example, at Furness Hospital in Cumbria where several babies have died in the maternity unit. The police are currently investigating a number of those cases.

Its inspections were too much concerned with box-ticking and not enough with finding out whether the hospital or care home had the right underlying culture - of respect for patients.

Furness General Hospital is at the centre of a police investigation concerning a number of deaths. Credit: PA

OK, some heavyweight criticism there. Early this morning I'm interviewing the new broom at the CGC - David Behan. He tells me they're doing more unannounced inspections, which will, in future, look more closely at that underlying culture.

They're much more open - all their board meetings are open to the public via webcasts. They've set up web hotlines for whistleblowers. In short, they recognise they were getting it wrong in the past and are now putting matters right.

MPs said the Care Quality Commission was weakened it failed to address issues raised by whistleblower board member Kay Sheldon. Credit: The Independent

As I listen to David Behan's answers, I find myself thinking, this seems a decent, straightforward bloke. OK, they're good answers but I can't help thinking his Lancashire accent adds to his credibility.

But then I meet another northerner - James Titcombe, whose son Joshua was one of the babies who died at the Furness hospital. Ever since he's been campaigning for a full investigation into the circumstances. And again, I find myself being persuaded by his northern accent.

He thinks the CQC has a monumental task ahead of it - and will have to go a long way to earn the trust the select committee believes its lost. I think he's almost certainly right. And not just because of a northern accent.