Conservative plans to slash NHS “bureaucracy” and “quangos” could leave the Care Quality Commission unable to visit the services it is supposed to be inspecting, the regulator’s chief executive has said.

Asked by HSJ if the CQC came under shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley’s pledge to cut spending on “bureaucracy” and “quangos” by a third, the regulator’s chief Cynthia Bower said: “I would be very surprised if we didn’t.”

The only place I can go to take money out is to cut back on that field force; or that’s the obvious thing for me to do

Cynthia Bower

She argued the CQC had already had around a quarter of its budget slashed compared with the total spending of the regulatory bodies that merged to create it earlier this year, but she said she expected more.

“Anybody who is taking money out of patients and services user care has to justify how they can be value for money. If we are part of the overheads of the system we absolutely have a responsibility.”

But speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester she went on to issue a stark warning. She said patients and social care service users wanted the regulator to make individual visits to assess the quality and safety of services and the CQC’s ability to do that was dependent on its “field force” of inspectors to do that.

But she said: “The only place I can go to take money out is to cut back on that field force; or that’s the obvious thing for me to do. So there is always a quid pro quo. If you want to take a lot of money out of regulation, yes, I can do that, but you have to understand that, the thing that makes regulation successful is getting out and looking at services [and that] does cost money.”

Ms Bower was offered some consolation, however. Conservative MP for Ilford North and health select committee member Lee Scott said Andrew Lansley had personally told him the CQC “will be there and operating if we are the government”.