Robert Francis has sharply criticised South Devonshire Health Care’s attempts to cover up accusations of nepotism against its chief executive.

Speaking at a Nuffield Trust event yesterday - the anniversary of his report into care failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust - Mr Francis said: “It is important that no tolerance is afforded to oppressive managerial behaviour of the sort identified only last week by an employment tribunal in the South West, which victimises staff who raise honestly held concerns.

“Every such case is hugely damaging to the confidence of other staff who are contemplating raising concerns. It is clear that there is much to do in this area.”

A tribunal last week found the trust attempted to suppress a report that accused its chief executive Paula Vasco-Knight of giving her daughter’s boyfriend a job.

Two members of staff who initially raised concerns left their posts after they were allegedly told to remain quiet.

Following the tribunal Dr Vasco-Knight resigned from her position as NHS England’s national lead for equality and diversity, and the trust has launched an internal investigation into her.

The Nuffield Trust released its own report assessing the impact of the Francis’ inquiry one year on, in which trusts described feeling pressured into meeting financial targets.

Commenting on the Nuffield report, Mr Francis said: “The response described by some individuals in this report… causes some concern about the behaviour of national bodies - or at least the perception of the way they do things when viewed from the front line.  

“In particular there is a fear that commissioners and regulators easily revert to old ways of applying pressure amounting to bullying in order to enforce targets and to meet financial requirements.”

He said “perception is almost as important as the reality”, so regulators and commissioners need to show they put they quality on par with finance “in a way that they’re probably not doing at the moment”.