The Care Quality Commission will be given Bank of England-style statutory independence to prevent it facing political interference in the run up to the general election, the health secretary announced today.
HSJ understands those involved in the development of the policy believe it will prevent the CQC delaying the publication of “uncomfortable” statistics such as its risk register charting individual hospital trusts’ difficulties in the run up to polling day.
In his Conservative conference speech in Manchester, Jeremy Hunt contrasted the move to the situation under the last government when “the system did everything it could to cover up these mistakes”.
One insider said the CQC’s new freedoms would also prevent government interference in the regulator’s appointments. Mr Hunt said the move would enshrine the positions of chief inspectors of hospitals, general practice and adult social care in law.
Mr Hunt said: “As soon as Parliament returns we will legislate to give the quality watchdog the statutory independence it so badly lacked under Labour. This means never again can ministers or political advisors lean on them to suppress uncomfortable truths, and never again will care failings be covered-up by managers dancing to their political masters’ tune.”
The Conservatives said the move – which will be set out in the Care Bill – would mean the CQC would not require the health secretary’s approval in order to investigate a hospital or care home, and prevent the minister from directing the regulator on the content of its annual report.
HSJ understands it would also give the CQC more power to resist requests to conduct themed reviews, such as the investigation of abortion clinics requested by then health secretary Andrew Lansley last year.
In a vicious attack on Labour, Mr Hunt blamed the previous government for covering up scandals at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals and Tameside Hospital foundation trusts.
The health secretary lambasted his Labour shadow Andy Burnham, who served as health secretary for some of the time Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust experienced major care failings, for not “find[ing] the time to mention Mid Staffs once” in his Labour conference speech last week.
Mr Hunt also said the announcement of a £50m pilot to offer extended hours for GP practices, announced by the prime minister today, would lead the country to “rediscover the ideal of family doctors”.
HSJ understands Downing Street has no specific view on exactly what type of service should emerge. Instead it is hoped that the model will “support conditions for new models to emerge” as part of a “scaling up” of primary care.
It is anticipated NHS England will examine whether a new GP contract is required to support new models although no decision has been taken on whether this was required.