A mass referral of more than 20 senior NHS managers has been made to the Care Quality Commission in what will be the first test of the new ‘fit and proper person’ regulations, HSJ can reveal.

A group of whistleblowers and campaigners has made seven formal submissions to the regulator, alleging that several managers are unfit for board level positions because of their past actions or behaviour.

Among those named are current and former NHS chief executives, medical directors and senior board level executives.

Under the regulations, directors can be deemed “unfit” to sit on boards if they have been involved in “serious misconduct or mismanagement”. The CQC can, through the provider registration process, require the removal of directors found to be unfit.

Most of the referrals were made last week. HSJ understands they are the first such referrals to have been received by the regulator since the legislation came into effect in November.

The fit and proper person test was a key recommendation of the Francis inquiry into the care scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. It is intended to address the issue of holding senior managers to account.

HSJ has chosen not to name the people referred at this stage.

In a response to one of the submissions seen by HSJ, CQC strategy lead Alan Rosenbach said the regulator “will now formally initiate the process of reviewing this information through a management review meeting chaired by [chief inspector of hospitals] Sir Mike Richards or one of his deputy chief inspectors”.

One of the people who made a referral told HSJ: “We know there are rogue and bullying managers in the NHS, and using the fit and proper person regulations sends out a warning they are going to be held accountable. It is a shot across their bows that will have a preventative or restraining effect on NHS managers in the future.”

Paul Spencer, employment partner at Hempsons, said he expected the CQC to forward the concerns to individual trusts and only to take a decision once a response had been received.

“It is for the relevant trust and the chair to be assured the relevant director is a fit and proper person,” he said. “The CQC will no doubt want to be reasonably confident the individual is not a fit and proper person before it takes any action.

“This is the start of a potentially very long process.”

Jon Restell, chief executive of Managers in Partnership, said there was still widespread confusion over the new law: “It can only add to the risk and uncertainty building up for these roles if any issue can be referred and any individual investigated.

“We are not saying these cases do not need to be investigated but if people are using this law to further personal agendas I think the CQC need to signal early on what they will and will not entertain.”

A CQC spokesman said it had received seven formal submissions under the fit and proper person regulations.