The Care Quality Commission has recommended East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust be placed in special measures despite its good inspection record under the regulator’s previous regime.

The CQC’s findings followed its inspection of the three acute hospitals managed by the trust, which were rated as either “requiring improvement” or “inadequate” under its new regime. Overall, the trust was rated “inadequate”.

The three acute hospitals had been given a clean bill of health under the CQC’s previous system, which was superseded by a more intensive system of inspection in September last year.

Nearly all trusts placed in special measures so far have been the subject of prior serious concerns.

In the report - due to be published today - inspectors identified a “worrying disconnect” between trust management and frontline staff. Several employees raised “serious concerns” with inspectors about the trust’s culture, admitting they would not “whistle blow” for fear of the consequences or because they thought nothing would change.

The report also flagged up insufficient staffing levels in accident and emergency, children’s care and at night; and a number of buildings and equipment were poorly maintained. Safety and leadership at the trust were rated as “inadequate” and the effectiveness and responsiveness of services as “requires improvement”.

However, caring at the trust was rated as “good”.

CQC chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards said: “We were extremely concerned at the disconnect we identified between the senior team and the staff working on the frontline.

“We saw ineffective leadership in action across a number of clinical services, and… the board was at times receiving false assurance through governance procedures. It is a lack of effective leadership, alongside care failings across the majority of services we inspected, which has led me to recommend to the foundation trust regulator Monitor that the trust be placed in special measures.”

The decision of whether to put East Kent into special measures now lies with Monitor.

A Monitor spokesman said: “Patients in east Kent expect to receive quality care and our priority is to make sure that they do. We are reviewing the CQC’s report on East Kent and working to identify the best course of action to tackle the specific problems that have been uncovered.”

We will shortly announce what our next steps will be to improve services at the trust.”

East Kent chief executive Stuart Bain said: “Much of what is in the report we have already recognised and we are working to address.

“Following a staffing review, we have invested an additional £2.9m to recruit 69 nurses where shortages exist.

“We have also recently appointed an additional four general surgeons and will be recruiting a further three surgeons very shortly.”

Mr Bain said an investment of £28m in improved facilities, including a new hospital in Dover, would also start to address problems identified by the CQC.

He added: “Our task as leaders of the organisation is now to work with our staff and our partners including the clinical commissioning groups to address the issues that have been raised and ensure we provide the residents of east Kent with high quality healthcare.”