The Care Quality Commission will not be afraid to speak up if the continued financial squeeze impacts on patient care, the regulator’s new chief executive has told HSJ.

David Behan said he was not “going to do sensationalism” but admitted he was concerned quality would suffer amid public spending contraints. He warned the health and social care system not to be “naïve” about it.

“As the financial challenges continue I think there is a real risk that quality could begin to be impacted,” he said. “We have got a role, not just on quality for individuals and at individual service level but we need to comment on quality at the national level.”

Mr Behan said this was likely to take place through annual state of care reports into the various sectors CQC was responsible for which would also include examples of what works well.

HSJ will publish the first full interview with new CQC chief David Behan next week

He added: “We’re not a polemical organisation. We will be guided by what people tell us and if people tell us standards are deteriorating and we have got evidence for that through our inspection activity then it’s important we use that information.”

Mr Behan spoke to HSJ following the launch of a consultation on the regulator’s strategy for 2013 to 2016. The document proposes adopting a “differentiated” approach to regulating the three sectors CQC is responsible for – health, social care and mental health – and moving towards a more “evidence-based” model. It acknowledges the current level of inspections, once a year for NHS organisations and most care homes, may be unsustainable.

This about-turn comes just over a year after former chief executive Cynthia Bower announced the CQC would introduce annual inspections and move away from a risk-based approach. She instigated this policy in the wake of criticism of the CQC’s performance and the number of inspections it carried out, which came from the Commons health select committee and others. The committee also criticised the regulator’s leadership for failing to stand up to the government.

Asked whether Ms Bower should have stuck to the original model, Mr Behan said she had been right to pursue annual inspections at the time.

“What Cynthia did was develop CQC and get it started. She had the job of registering all services and that’s a contribution that Cynthia made of getting those 40,000 services through [registration],” he said.

“What this strategy is signalling and I am signalling is we’re now moving into a different phase.”

EXCLUSIVE: Behan says CQC will 'comment on quality' as cuts bite