Ex-CQC chief denies 'cover-up' claim

Ex-CQC chief Cynthia Bower Photo:

The former head of the Care Quality Commission claims she has been "hung out to dry" by the regulator after being accused of attempting to cover up its investigation into baby deaths.

According to an independent review Cynthia Bower was one of three officials who in 2011 backed the suppression of an internal report into the CQC's failure properly to investigate University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, where a number of mothers and babies died.

In an interview with The Independent, her first since leaving her role last year, she strongly denied the accusations and added that she was given no opportunity to respond to them.

She also accused the CQC of commissioning a report from management accountants Grant Thornton that was neither fair nor reasonable, instead of asking police to investigate.

"I have no reason to be concerned by a police investigation - I would have welcomed it," she told the paper.

"It would have been a fairer and more reasonable process. This is a report that has hung people out to dry for something we categorically deny."

However, she admitted that the CQC inspection process had failed to uncover failings at the Morecambe Bay Trust.

Ms Bower is alleged to have "verbally agreed" to covering up the report, along with press officer Anna Jefferson, under the instruction of deputy chief executive Jill Finney because it was "potentially damaging to the CQC's reputation", according to the latest independent investigation.

Ms Jefferson denies the allegation, along with Ms Finney who told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there was no decision to "delete a report nor was there an instruction" during a meeting.

"At that meeting we reviewed the report and the report concluded that the activity that CQC had undertaken at Morecambe Bay was satisfactory," she said.

"It was quite clear on reading the report that the activity was not satisfactory and CQC should have done more, so at that meeting we agreed that the report required much further work."

Defending her position, she said that the report was "the first thing" she pointed out to Grant Thornton when they were brought in to conduct the external review and urged them to read it.

The names of Ms Finney and the other senior figures accused of a cover-up were initially redacted from the Grant Thornton Report but later revealed by the CQC after a public outcry.

Cumbria Police are investigating whether any criminal offence may have occurred during any cover-up at the health watchdog.

The force said it would examine the CQC's latest report over the next few weeks.

The news comes after a former director of operations at the CQC claimed he was sacked after raising serious concerns about the way the watchdog was run.

David Johnstone said he was escorted off the premises then hit with a gagging order after putting together a plan to introduce fundamental changes in the organisation.