The Care Quality Commission is to assess the leadership, culture and governance of acute services in the NHS and the corporate governance of private sector care providers, HSJ has learned.

In an email sent to staff last week, chief executive David Behan and chair David Prior set out their “early thinking” ahead of the publication of the Francis report.

The long awaited report into the failure of the system to spot problems at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust was due to be published on 6 February.

Chair Robert Francis QC was widely expected to make recommendations on the operation of the quality regulator.

In the email, Mr Behan and Mr Prior commit to using more professional experts in inspections and more patients as “experts by experience”. The regulator is already in the process of setting up a bank of 200 health and social care professionals to support its inspectors and it has recruited 136 so far.

Both the use of more professionals and an increased focus on the culture of organisations regulated by the CQC were expected to be key recommendations of the Francis report.

A recent report from the Commons health committee also recommended CQC inspectors increased their focus on the culture of organisations.

Currently the 16 essential standards which the regulator inspects against relate mainly to service delivery on the frontline.

The email to CQC staff states: “Our regulatory approach will change to ensure we assess the leadership, culture and governance of acute services in the NHS and the corporate governance of large providers of adult social care services.

“We will want to assure ourselves that there is an environment where professional standards are high and a corporate culture that is people-centred, open and encourages people to speak out.”

The email says it is too early to set out changes in detail as the board will need to consider the recommendations from Mr Francis and the responses to the recent three-month consultation on the regulator’s future strategy.

It also responds to ongoing criticism, most recently from the health committee, that the regulator was not clear about its purpose. The latest criticism was viewed as unfair by many people at the CQC.

The email states: “Let us be clear. The primary responsibility for delivering quality care lies with care professionals, clinical staff, providers and commissioners. You cannot inspect and regulate quality into care. Our purpose is to ensure that those we regulate provide services that are both safe and to an acceptable standard of care quality. We expect those standards to continuously improve.”