Watchdog ignored safety concerns says whistleblower

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The patient care watchdog has been accused by a whistleblower of registering hospitals as safe despite knowing there were problems.

Kay Sheldon, who was a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said the organisation ignored concerns at a number of NHS trusts. “The Mid Staffs public inquiry was under way and it had been said by the Department of Health that Mid Staffs was a one-off and there was a real sense that finding another Mid Staffs had to be avoided at all costs,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “There were a number of hospitals where the problems were well known and yet they were registered as fully compliant or subsequently inspected as fully compliant.”

Among trusts concerned, she said, was the University Hospitals and Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust which is under police investigation following the deaths of a number of babies.

Ms Sheldon said the CQC was aware of serious problems at the trust in late 2009 and the beginning of 2010 but in April 2010 it was registered as fully compliant.

“It just doesn’t make sense. There is no way that the trust could have turned itself round in two or three months,” she said.

“It seems to me that CQC gave assurance about the trust that wasn’t actually accurate. It was a very shocking thing to find thinking that an organisation that’s there to protect patients had effectively given what amounted to false assurance and that meant that problems in the trust carried on unacknowledged and unaddressed.”

CQC chief executive David Behan, who took over last year, said an independent review was under way into what happened at Morecambe Bay.