Department of Health director general of social care David Behan has been appointed chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, HSJ can reveal.

Mr Behan, who began his career as a social worker, previously headed up the Commission for Social Care Inspection, one of the CQC’s predecessor organisations. He joined the DH in 2006 and has been leading the development of plans for social care reform.

Mr Behan will replace Cynthia Bower who has led the regulator since its creation four years ago.

Formed from a merger between CSCI, the Healthcare Commission and the Mental Health Commission, the CQC has faced difficulties from day one.

Mounting criticism of the organisation’s leadership culminated in the publication of a critical DH performance and capability review earlier this year. It concluded non-executive and executive teams needed to be “strengthened” and coincided with Ms Bower’s resignation.

Mr Behan will face the challenge of increasing confidence in the regulator while overseeing the successful registration of around 10,000 GP practices by next April, a task described as a “major challenge” for the CQC by the Public Accounts Committee.

He will also have to lead the CQC’s response to Robert Francis’s report into the part the regulatory and supervisory system played in care failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust which is due for publication later this year.

Mr Behan has further developed his reputation as an effective operator in the director general’s role. He has worked closely alongside NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson who was appointed at the same time. Mr Behan has been included in the top twenty of the HSJ 100 list of the most powerful people in health policy for the last five years, rising to ninth place last year.

Mr Behan said: “”I am greatly looking forward to my next challenge of working with the CQC Board, staff and stakeholders. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to lead the organisation that takes action where services are poor and unsafe, whilst providing assurance that our health and care services are fit to achieve quality and outcomes for people which are amongst the best in the world.”

HSJ understands other shortlisted candidates for the role included chief executive of the General Social Care Council Penny Thompson.

As previously revealed by HSJ a number of senior NHS figures were approached by headhunters but declined to apply for the role.

CQC chair Dame Jo Williams said Mr Behan’s combination of frontline and regulatory experience and his commitment to making a difference made him an “outstanding candidate”.

She added: “His clarity of vision and strong track record on delivery will be crucial to driving forward the next stage of CQC’s development - as we continue to build on the progress already made, delivering increasing benefits to the health and social care system through our essential role in tackling poor care. I and my Board very much look forward to working with him.”