Cover-up went to top of CQC: review
The health watchdog's cover-up over a failure to investigate a series of baby deaths stretched all the way to the top of the organisation.
The Care Quality Commission's (CQC) former chief executive Cynthia Bower was present during a discussion of the deletion of an internal review which criticised the regulator's inspections of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, where a number of mothers and babies died, according to an independent review.
Ms Bower, who has now resigned from her current post as a non-executive trustee of the Skills for Health lobbying body, said that she "gave no instruction to delete" the internal review, but added that as the former boss of the healthcare watchdog: "The buck stops with me." Ms Bower's deputy, Jill Finney, and media manager Anna Jefferson were both also present when the deletion was discussed, a CQC spokesman said. The women were named by CQC officials following pressure to identify those involved with the cover-up.
Ms Finney's employer Nominet, the internet organisation which runs the .uk infrastructure, later said she had been fired from her job as chief commercial officer. It said in a statement: "The increasing public scrutiny over our CCO's former role at CQC has made it impossible for her to continue with her role and responsibilities at Nominet. With regret, we felt it necessary to terminate Jill Finney's employment with immediate effect. Ms Finney will be paid one month's salary in lieu of notice."
When the report was published on Wednesday, the names of those involved had been redacted - a move made after the CQC received legal advice suggesting that publishing the names could breach data protection laws. But after receiving fresh advice, the watchdog decided to name those involved, a spokesman said. CQC's chief executive David Behan apologised for initially withholding the names and admitted the organisation had got it "wrong". He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "There's a big debate about accountability in public services and no doubt the public are, some members of the public are, disappointed, frustrated, perhaps even angry with the decision we took not to put people's names into the public domain. We did get it wrong and I apologise for that."
Louise Dineley, the author of the internal review, told independent investigators that Ms Finney had ordered the deletion of the report and Ms Bower and Ms Jefferson had "verbally agreed". Ms Dineley, head of regulatory and risk quality at the CQC, claimed that Ms Finney said to her "read my lips" when she gave the instruction. When Ms Finney was interviewed by the authors of the latest report, she told them that Ms Jefferson, who is a current employee at the regulator, said: "Are you kidding me? This can never be in a public domain nor subject to FoI (a Freedom of Information request)."
Ms Bower said: "As chief executive of CQC the buck stops with me so I deeply regret any failings in the regulation of UHMB (University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust) during my time in charge and any distress this has caused to relatives. As to the finding that there may have been a cover-up of a negative report; I gave no instruction to delete any such report. I have no note or recollection of such instruction being given. Had I heard any such instruction I would have countermanded it."
Ms Jefferson, who is still employed by the organisation, said: "This quote is completely untrue. I cannot imagine why my manager would have put these words in my mouth - and in fact she has since said she did not attribute this quote to me. On the basis that the quote is false, uncorroborated and has since been retracted, I am appalled that it appears in the report."
Ms Finney said: "It has recently been alleged that I instructed the deletion of the internal review relating to University Hospital Morecambe Bay. These allegations are untrue. I informed the Grant Thornton review team of the existence of the internal report at the time of their appointment to conduct their independent review - and ensured they had access to it from a member of my team, at the outset of the review - it is therefore disappointing that this appears to have been overlooked in their report."
Concerns about the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria came to light in 2008, but the CQC gave the Morecambe Bay trust, which runs the hospital, a clean bill of health in 2010. In March 2011, Cumbria Police launched an investigation into a cluster of maternity deaths at the trust, including the death of Joshua Titcombe who died at just nine days old at Furness General Hospital in 2008 after staff failed to spot and treat an infection. A tweet from a man claiming to be Joshua's father James said: "I feel utter disgust that Cynthia Bower has been implicated in the cover up. #shameful." While police are "unable to confirm the number of deaths/cases" they are examining, reports suggest up to 16 newborns and two mothers are feared to have died between 2001 and 2012 due to poor care, and another nine infants were born with permanent brain damage.