Former health secretary Alan Johnson put pressure on the Healthcare Commission not to publish controversial figures suggesting up to 1,200 people had died unnecessarily at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the public inquiry was told.

In his statement to the inquiry, former Monitor executive chair Bill Moyes said Mr Johnson had “instructed” HCC boss Anna Walker not to include the statistics following a “row” during a meeting in March 2009 ahead of the publication of the HCC’s damming report into care at the trust.

Dr Moyes told the inquiry the meeting was also been attended by NHS chief executive David Nicholson, finance director David Flory, medical director Bruce Keogh and junior health minister Ben Bradshaw, with HCC chair Sir Ian Kennedy on speaker phone. Almost everyone was in agreement the figures should not be released, he said.

Asked why his evidence differed from Sir Ian who told the inquiry he had “categorically” not been put under any political pressure not to include the figures in the report, Dr Moyes said Mr Johnson had not issued a “formal direction”.

“At the end of 10 to 15 minutes of debate I recall the secretary of state expressing himself quite bluntly that he did not think the figures should go into the report,” he said.

The figures were later leaked to the press. However, in a statement released today, Mr Johnson stood by his decision as the figures “were not supported by robust clinical evidence”.

During his second day of evidence to the inquiry Dr Moyes was questioned for more than an hour about why Monitor had failed to use its powers of intervention sooner as evidence of failures at the trust mounted up during 2008. 

He told the inquiry Monitor feared the trust would challenge any such intervention through a judicial review and was waiting for the HCC to recommend it used its powers.

“We had enough evidence to use our powers but the question remained whether we could safely use our powers. If we got tangled up in a judicial review with the trust that would have impacted in the way the hospital was run,” he said.

The inquiry heard during 2008 Dr Moyes had repeatedly urged the HCC to finish its investigation so that Monitor could get on and intervene.

Asked by inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC whether he would still have required the investigation to be complete before intervening if he was head or an organisation that had the powers of Monitor and the HCC, Dr Moyes said he would.

Inquiry counsel Tom Kark QC asked Dr Moyes what Monitor brings to the NHS “that a good firm of auditors and increased power for the CQC couldn’t?”.

Dr Moyes said auditors would not be prepared to intervene in failing boards, run development programmes such as the one for finance directors or the foundation trust quality accounts.