CQC implicated in alleged Morecambe Bay Trust cover-up

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16 infant deathsFollowing 16 infant deaths at a north-west hospital, officers at the Care Quality Commission who discarded a damning report have been accused of hiding the facts behind the incidents.

Officials at the CQC, the government's healthcare regulator, are alleged to have been party to a cover-up, having deleted a commission report into baby deaths at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

The CQC gave the trust the all-clear in 2010, 2 years after concerns for the deaths were originally voiced. However, the new independent report asserts that senior people at the commission were so keen to protect the CQC's reputation that they instructed the deletion of an internal review which highlighted the severe shortcomings unearthed by the original inquiry.

According to the new report, conducted for the CQC by the consultant Grant Thornton, 1 senior officer claimed in March 2012 he was instructed by a manager to delete his review since it would provoke public criticism of the watchdog.

"He informed us that he was instructed by a member of senior management at CQC to 'delete' the report of his findings," the report states. "We think that the information contained in the report was sufficiently important that the deliberate failure to provide it could properly be characterised as a 'cover-up'."

The Liberal Democrats' president, Tim Farron MP, has requested Commons time for tabling an urgent question, while Health Select Committee chair Stephen Dorrell said the news of the potential cover-up "makes very depressing reading".

A spokesman for David Cameron said the Prime Minister found the allegations "deeply disturbing and appalling" and that the government was taking "strong action" to reform the system.

Norman Lamb, the health minister, said the revelations were "disgusting" and suggested that CQC managers should be "named and shamed".

The report was also described as "shocking" by James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died in 2008 from a treatable infection 9 days after his birth at Furness General Hospital.

"The report lays bare a number of extremely serious failures [that are] quite hard to believe," Mr Titcombe said. "It embodies everything that is wrong with the culture in the NHS. It's something that's been really rotten about the system."

Joshua's death, along with the loss of 3 other babies and 2 mothers, prompted the original concerns about care standards at Morecambe Bay Trust and led to a complaint to the CQC.

Mr Titcombe added that change was now due. "We need that culture to change. Patient safety should be the no1 priority, and organisations that work within regulation need to be aligned with that principle."

In response to the report, the watchdog acknowledged that people had been let down. "We apologise for that," a spokesperson said. "This report reveals just how poor the Care Quality Commission's oversight of University Hospitals Morecambe Bay was in 2010.

"This is not the way things should have happened. It is not the way things will happen in the future. We will use the report to inform the changes we are making to improve the way we work and the way we are run."

Promising thorough investigations, the CQC insisted there was "no evidence of a systematic cover-up".

"The publication draws a line in the sand for us," said the commission's chair, David Prior. "What happened in the past was wholly unacceptable."

"The report confirms our view that at a senior level the organisation was dysfunctional. The board and the senior executive team have been radically changed."

According to Labour's health spokesman Jamie Reed, the names of those who took the decision to destroy the report should be made public, along with others who were knowingly involved and by what reasoning they justified their actions.

"Urgent clarity is needed on whether the CQC had any contact with the Department of Health about this matter and if so, what was the nature of that contact," Mr Reed said.

The CQC is to be the subject of a public inquiry and is facing some 30 claims for civil negligence.

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