Staff involved in a cover-up at health watch-dog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) are to face disciplinary action, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons today.
His comments come after it was revealed that the CQC deliberately suppressed an internal review which highlighted weaknesses in its inspection of a number of hospitals in Cumbria and Lancashire, after a number of deaths or "serious untoward incidents" in Furness Hospital, ran by Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.
Downing Street branded today's revelations "deeply disturbing and appalling" and in a statement to MPs, Mr Hunt said "the whole truth must come out now."
Below is a timeline of events in the scandal the health secretary labelled "a terrible personal tragedy" and families described as "absolutely unforgivable":
- 2008: Concerns raised about the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria after a spate of mother and baby deaths.
- April 2010: University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust given the all-clear by the health regulatory for England, the CQC.
- 2011: Internal CQC review commissioned into how the watchdog identified problems at the Trust. The extremely critical findings were not published
- September 2011: NHS Trust warned it would be closed down if major changes were not made.
- 2013: David Behan, who ordered the 2011 review, becomes chief exec of CQC
- June 2013: CQC releases a new report detailing how the original review had been suppressed.
The suppressed report was released today and can be read here.
The official tasked with writing the original review was asked to rewrite it, after the findings showing CQC failures became clear. In accounts of discussions between senior managers about what to do with the findings, one 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.
The whistleblower who raised the alarm about the health regulator's flawed assessment of Furness General Hospital has said she was "subjected to the most appalling treatment" as a result of her actions.
Kay Sheldon said she had initially tried to raise her concerns internally and with the Department of Health, before approaching the Daily Telegraph.
The father of a newborn baby who died in Furness Hospital due to staff neglect said today's report "beggars belief" and said the deliberate deceit was "absolutely unforgivable."
James Titcombe's son Joshua developed an infection shortly after his birth, which staff failed to spot or treat. He died aged nine days.
Jackie Daniel, chief executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, admitted patients had been "badly let down" in the past, but said there was a new board in place who are "committed to providing safe and quality care to the level that the public, staff and regulators expect and rightly demand."