Health regulator criticised by MPs

The regulator of health and social care in England has not earned public confidence, a scathing report by MPs has concluded.

Failures in the registration process and the handling of a whistleblowing board member have "further undermined" public assurance in the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Health Select Committee said. And despite "sustained criticism" the organisation has failed to define its core purpose, it added.

The body, which inspects hospitals and care homes to ensure standards are being met, was created in 2009, but MPs said the CQC has not yet managed to generate public confidence.

The CQC's registration process "was not effective in ensuring that all essential standards were being met" at University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, the report states. The maternity unit at one of the trust's hospitals - Furness General Hospital in Barrow, Cumbria - is at the centre of a police investigation concerning a number of deaths.

"It is failures such as those witnessed at Morecambe Bay which undermine public confidence in the CQC's essential standards," the report states. Public confidence in the organisation was also weakened last year when the body failed to address issues raised by board member Kay Sheldon, MPs added.

They said that it was "regrettable" that Ms Sheldon was forced to voice concerns about poor leadership and safety breaches at the regulator at the public inquiry into failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

The outgoing chair of the CQC was grilled about her handling of Ms Sheldon when she appeared before MPs in September last year. Reports suggest that Dame Jo Williams, who is soon to be replaced by Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chairman David Prior, asked then-health secretary Andrew Lansley to remove Ms Sheldon from the board on the day that she gave evidence to the inquiry.

Dame Jo told the committee she was "surprised" to learn that her colleague decided to speak at the inquiry, adding that it led to a breakdown of trust between the pair. The report concluded that Mr Prior should overhaul the governance structure at the organisation when he starts his role later this month.

Conservative Stephen Dorrell, chair of the committee, said: "The CQC's primary focus should be to ensure that the public has confidence that its inspections provide an assurance of acceptable standards in care and patient safety. We do not believe that the CQC has yet succeeded in this objective."

CQC chief executive David Behan said: "In our strategic review we consulted widely on a clear statement of our purpose and role. We also set out our intentions to improve how we communicate with the public, make better use of information and work more effectively as an organisation and with others, including those who provide care."

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