Former deputy chief executive of the Care Quality Commission Jill Finney has been revealed as the official who, according to an independent audit review, ordered a critical internal report to be deleted.
In a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt this afternoon, current CQC chief executive David Behan and chair David Prior confirmed the names of the four people present at the meeting where discussion took place about the report.
The Grant Thornton investigation report was published yesterday, but the CQC had previously said it could not name the individuals involved due to the Data Protection Act. However, in today’s letter, which follows political and media pressure, Mr Behan and Mr Prior said they had reconsidered the decision in light of advice from the Information Commissioner and the “overriding public interest in transparency”.
The report, which it is alleged was ordered to be deleted, had been prepared by head of regulatory risk and quality Louise Dinley at the request of former director of operations Amanda Sherlock. It examined the CQC’s decision making around the registration of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay without conditions in 2010. Serious concerns about maternity services at the trust’s Furness General Hospital emerged just months later.
According to the review of the CQC’s handling of the regulation of the trust by Grant Thornton, which was commissioned by the CQC’s new leadership, Ms Finney is alleged to have given the order to delete the report at a meeting on 12 March 2012, stating to Ms Dinley “read my lips”.
Former chief executive Cynthia Bower and media manager Anna Jefferson were also present at the meeting. The Grant Thornton report says Ms Finney recalled Ms Jefferson “exclaiming “Are you kidding me? This can never be in a public domain nor subject to FoI”.
The report notes that Ms Finney “did not unequivocally deny giving [Ms Dinley] an instruction to delete his report” and that, unlike Ms Dinley, Ms Finney was unable to produce a contemporaneous note of the meeting.
When interviewed by Grant Thornton, Ms Jefferson did not deny making the comments but “suggested [she] did make them but only because [she] was unhappy with the form of [the] report and its conclusion”.
It concludes: “To summarise the position with regard to the meeting on 12 March 2012 attended by four people: one person alleges he was given an instruction to delete a report and has a personal contemporaneous note - part of which has been corroborated - to support his contention; [Ms Jefferson] gave a somewhat ambiguous denial the instruction was given, [Ms Finney] cannot say one way or the other whether the instruction was given and the [Ms Bower] cannot recall the meeting at all.”
In their letter to Mr Hunt Mr Behan and Mr Prior said they were seeking “advice on whether there is any appropriate action that may be taken in relation to these named individuals”.
Ms Jefferson has published a statement, following the release of the names. It challenges some of the statements in the Grant Thornton report. She was quoted by the BBC as saying: “I am a new mother myself and the thought of what the families who have lost babies at this hospital have gone through is heartbreaking.
“I would never have conspired to cover up anything which could have led to a better understanding of what went wrong in the regulation of this hospital. I am so appalled that I have been implicated in this way.”