Police urged to probe 'cover-up'
Police have been asked to launch an investigation into the allegations of a cover-up at the health regulator, it has emerged.
MP Tim Farron has written to the Metropolitan Police asking them to examine whether an offence has been committed.
The news comes after a damning report concluded that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) might have deliberately suppressed an internal review which highlighted weaknesses in its inspections of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
In a letter to Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, wrote: "I believe this information that has come to light today could be prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed. I urge you to proceed with an investigation using the evidence available."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the "whole truth" must come out about the incident. He said that David Prior, chairman of the CQC, will now consider whether individuals involved will face disciplinary action and other sanctions.
The regulator has faced criticism for redacting the name of a senior manager who ordered the deletion of the internal review. The manager, known only as "Mr G", is accused of ordering an employee to suppress the report because it was "potentially damaging to the CQC's reputation", according to an independent review into the regulator's actions.
Earlier the CQC said that it did not publish the name because it may breach the Data Protection Act. But the data watchdog warned against hiding behind the Act to keep information out of the public domain.
Information Commissioner's Office deputy commissioner David Smith said: "The Data Protection Act does not specifically prevent people being named publicly, but instead talks about using information fairly and considering what expectations of confidentiality people may have had when providing their personal information. Put simply, patients would not expect sensitive information about their health to be disclosed in a public document, but there is no blanket ban preventing senior managers being held to account. The Care Quality Commission is well-placed to make a decision based on these factors, but it is important the Data Protection Act is not used as a barrier to keep information out of the public domain where there is an overriding public interest in disclosure."
Mr Prior said lawyers had blocked the release of the names but said the organisation would now "press that advice further". Pressed on whether the people involved had committed a criminal offence, he told Channel 4 News: "I don't believe they have done a criminal act." Mr Prior said the board had "nearly completely changed" but admitted he could not give a "100% assurance" that there was no one left in the CQC who had been involved in bullying the whistleblower. He added: "When you have an organisation as dysfunctional as this one, where the culture was so rotten at the top, where the relationship between the top executive team and the board is so poisonous bad things happen, good people behave in a way that they would not normally behave in. Frankly, the responsibility for this lies right at the top of the organisation with the board, the chairman, the chief executive."
David Behan, chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, said: "Ever since I commissioned this independent review it has been our intention to place the report into the public domain. We received legal advice that we could not name individuals and to do so would be to break the law. We are now seeking a review of the original legal advice."