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Gagged CQC employee slams regulator at Mid Staffs inquiry

The Care Quality Commission tried to “gag” the doctor who led the Healthcare Commission’s investigation into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the public inquiry into deaths at the trust has heard.

Heather Wood, who transferred to the CQC when it succeeded the commission in 2009, was placed under a “gagging order” restricting her from criticising the regulator when she left last August after the abolition of the investigations team.

Dr Wood told the inquiry she did not have “great confidence” in the CQC uncovering similar failures as its registration regime was focused on detecting underperformance through non-compliance with its own standards, rather than identifying potential problems by learning “national lessons” of the type linked to problems at Mid Staffs.

Former Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker told the inquiry she was concerned registration alone would not be “sufficient”.

Dr Wood was also critical of the regulator’s regional structure, which she suggested allowed relationships between the regulator and the regulated to become too cosy, and claimed NHS West Midlands had exerted undue influence over the CQC.

She said the strategic health authority had contacted “very senior staff” at the CQC during an investigation into GP out-of-hours service Take Care Now, resulting in criticism of the SHA being toned down in the final report.

Dr Wood also blamed pressure exerted by NHS West Midlands on CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower for a U-turn on a decision to conduct a preliminary investigation at University Hospital of North Staffordshire Trust in 2009.

Dr Wood said she had felt the investigation team’s “cards were marked” from the early days of the CQC, meaning it would be disbanded.

In her submission to the inquiry, Ms Walker also said Monitor and NHS West Midlands were keen for the commission to speed up the investigation to limit bad publicity while NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson and the NHS leadership team were not “comfortable” with the idea.

The inquiry also heard that former Healthcare Commission and CQC communications lead Roger Davidson was subject to a gagging order. He revealed former commission chair Sir Ian Kennedy had threatened to resign if then health secretary Alan Johnson did not retract criticisms he had made of the commission’s actions regarding Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust. The comments were withdrawn.

The inquiry continues.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Wow - this is really starting to unravel. Cover-ups, gagging clauses, threats....Mid Staffs-gate has a long way to run yet. Some very senior figures must be very worried that the truth will out.

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  • Is this really a surprise to anyone?

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  • Daniel Steenstra

    This demonstrates that there is a culture of no accountability and a perverse reward for failure in the NHS. When Gordon Brown was found asleep at the metaphorical wheel, whilst supposedly steering the UK economy, the UK electorate was able to boot him out, despite a flawed election system.

    In a previous article in HSJ Cynthia Bower, now head of the Care Quality Commission stated that the SHA ‘did not have the capacity to have a detailed oversight of the region’s health services’. So if having a detailed oversight is not part of its activities what does a SHA do then? What did she do to develop this capacity?

    At the time of the troubles at Stafford, Sir David Nicholson, now Chief Executive of the NHS, was in charge of the SHA and so involved in overseeing the merger that his organisation (HSJ 18 April 2011) failed to attend to its core business of spotting problems.

    With these people at the wheel again of this time a much larger whole NHS re-organisation we can all go to sleep again – will we wake up though?

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  • It is common knowledge among senior staff that, when when ex-colleagues of Bower's from the West Midlands area want anything, then they indulge that friendship and contact her direct for a few strings to be pulled. Unfortunately, as certain of the executive team are puppets they just react as instructed.

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