3 Oct 2013

CQC exonerates employee it accused over alleged cover up of poor care

Ever so quietly, with no warning, the Care Quality Commission has published a statement on its website today completely exonerating one of the women alleged to have been involved in a cover-up of an internal report into its inspections of the Morecambe Bay NHS trust.

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Anna Jefferson, who was at the time the CQC’s media manager, was one of four people said to have been in a meeting in June in which an order was allegedly given to destroy the report.

Louise Dineley, the head of regulatory risk and quality, who was the author of the report, told investigators from management consultants, Grant Thornton that Ms Jefferson had said “are you kidding me? This can never be in a public domain nor subject to [Freedom of Information]”.

Grant Thornton had been asked by CQC to look into the regulation of University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust.

Their subsequent report caused a storm at the time, with the Health Secretary and MPs calling for among other things resignations, pensions to be taken away, and even police investigations.

There was outrage, too, when the report was first published with the names redacted – or more specifically changed to Mr E, Mr F, Mr G, and Mr J.

The CQC said this had been done on legal advice for data protection purposes. The following day the legal advice changed and the four were publicly named.

But the CQC say, in their ever so quietly published statement, that Anna Jefferson had not used any inappropriate phrases, had not supported any instruction to delete an internal report prepared by a colleague (Louise Dineley), that there was no case to answer and that they regretted any distress.

Ms Jefferson was on maternity leave at the time and I understand was deeply upset by the allegations made against her.

But what of the others in the meeting? Cynthia Bower, the former chief executive, and Jill Finney, the former deputy chief executive, have both denied that there was any attempt to cover up the report. Ms Finney, in particular was said by Ms Dineley to have ordered the deletion, and was alleged to have said “read my lips”.

A solicitor’s letter has now gone from Ms Finney to the CQC denying she attempted to suppress the Dineley report and criticising aspects of Grant Thornton’s process as unfair. There is a reference to it on the CQC website.

Both women have said on Channel 4 News that they are very angry about the whole affair.

And certainly the statement today from the CQC does raise a number of questions, not least if Anna Jefferson did not say what she was alleged to have said, did the others?

The CQC does not have the power to investigate further because Ms Bower and Ms Finney are no longer employees.


Cynthia Bower told Channel 4 News tonight:

“If the evidence against the three of us was properly subjected to legal processes – like the Cumbria police did look at it in the end – or indeed CQC’s own internal disciplinary processes, then the case against us would collapse, and that’s exactly what’s happened”

Ms Bower added that a regulator is supposed to be responsible for fair judgements and this incident goes beyond the personal to the heart of how the CQC is prepared to conduct its business.

But Cumbria police have already said that they would not be investigating the matter because the failure to act on the internal review had “no consequences for the health care provision for the people of Cumbria”.

It is all very peculiar indeed.

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