Morecambe Bay cover-up: Belated denial from CQC deputy

Allegations of a cover-up at the Care Quality Commission have finally prompted a denial from the watchdog's former deputy chief executive.

Jill Finney, who was named last week as one of the four individuals attending a key meeting at which the decision was taken not to make a critical internal report public, insisted this morning no decision to "delete" the report had been taken.

Her claim this morning follows an investigation by City consultants Grant Thornton which found she "did not unequivocally deny giving an instruction to delete" the report, by the CQC's head of regulatory risk and quality Louise Dinley.

Finney is now claiming the internal report was suppressed because its findings were judged by senior CQC bosses as being inadequate.

"At that meeting we viewed the report and the report concluded the activity that CQC had undertaken at Morecambe Bay was satisfactory," she told the Today programme.

"It was quite clear on reading the report that the activity was not satisfactory and CQC should have done more, so at that meeting we agreed the report required much further work. There was not a decision at that meeting to delete a report, nor was there an instruction."

The CQC's ex-chief executive Cynthia Bower and media manager Anna Jefferson were the other two people attending the meeting.

According to the Grant Thornton report, Finney claimed Jefferson had insisted the report could "never be in a public domain nor subject to FoI".

"The report was one of several reports that was reduced and this particular report was not thorough enough and it didn't do a deep enough dive into understanding CQC's regulatory activity," Finney added this morning.

She accepted that more should have been done by the watchdog, which gave Morecambe Bay unconditional permission to upgrade to foundation trust status in 2010. Sixteen babies lost their lives at Furness hospital's maternity unit between 2002 and 2011.

Finney said the CQC had struggled to cope with a reduced budget and demanding deadlines from the government after being established in a merger by "three organisations which didn't wish to be merged" in 2009.

"That was always going to be a very tall order," she added.

"People in CQC tried their very best to hit those deadlines and deliver regulatory activity at the same time."

Robert Francis, who chaired the inquiry into the failings which led to unnecessary deaths at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, told the same programme that there were "echoes" of the institutional problems he explored in Morecambe Bay.

"There is a crying need in the NHS for more candour in the NHS, more openness when things go wrong and more transparency about how things are put right," he said.

"It's very difficult to blame these things on individuals. The NHS is hugely complex, and as a result of that it has many different bits of it which have to inter-relate with each other. It becomes quite easy for matters of concern to disappear between the cracks."

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has threatened "very, very serious consequences" if evidence of a cover-up at the CQC is established.