The Department of Health under Labour tried to stop details emerging of a hospital scandal involving higher-than-normal death rates, emails have revealed.
Former health secretary Andy Burnham was "furious" when news leaked of poor standards of care at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in November 2009, a few months before the general election.
The Department of Health (DoH) ordered the Care Quality Commission (CQC) not to brief the press on an inspectors' report into the trust, which found appalling standards of hygiene, the emails said.
But by then the CQC had already told three national newspapers the report was impending and the story was being published by the Press Association.
The emails - released by the CQC under the Freedom of Information Act following a request by Tory MP Steve Barclay - reveal how the regulator had concerns about Basildon since May 2009 but then rated the trust as "good" in the October.