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MPs to summon watchdog bosses over NHS 'cover-up'

  • File picture shows a newborn baby pictured in an incubator at a maternity ward in Kabul, October 17, 2011. MPs want to question the heads of Britain's health and social care regulator over alleged attempts to suppress a report into preventable deaths of babies and mothers at a Cumbria hospital.AFP/File

  • Britain's Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt pictured at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on October 9, 2012. Hunt on Friday described the CQC health and social care watchdog's alleged suppression of a report into its own failings as "utterly shocking" and said that the way the regulator was set up in 2009 had been "a big mistake".AFP/File

MPs want to question the heads of Britain's health and social care regulator over alleged attempts to suppress a report into preventable deaths of babies and mothers at a Cumbria hospital.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Thursday named three officials -- two former executives and a media manager -- accused of trying to delete the report into its failings over the inspection of Furness General Hospital in 2009.

More than 30 families have taken legal action against the hospital -- run by Morecambe Bay NHS Trust -- in relation to baby and maternal deaths and injuries from 2008.

Current chief executive David Behan and chairman David Prior are to be summoned to give evidence before the Commons health select committee, its chairman Conservative former health secretary Stephen Dorrell said Friday.

"The people who are now in charge of the CQC have to demonstrate in public, convincingly and quickly, how they are going to build the effectiveness of this organisation so that it can deliver the regulatory function that we pay for and need," Dorrell told the BBC.

Behan has defended his handling of the scandal, having commissioned an independent investigation by management consultants Grant Thornton into the alleged cover-up of the report soon after his appointment last year.

Concerns were expressed about Furness General's maternity unit as early as 2008, but the CQC certified the unit as safety compliant in 2010.

An internal review was ordered by the CQC in 2011 into how a cluster of deaths and injuries had gone unnoticed.

But the Grant Thornton review said that an official was told to delete his report in March 2012 because it was "potentially damaging to the CQC's reputation".

The manager implicated denied ordering the report to be suppressed, but the review's authors said they found "corroborative evidence" that the order was made.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Friday described the CQC's alleged suppression of the report as "utterly shocking" and said that the way the regulator was set up in 2009 had been "a big mistake".

Hunt stressed that the CQC must follow "due process" in determining what sanctions can be imposed against the individuals implicated, but said he would back the regulator "absolutely to the hilt" if it chose to take action against them.

He added that the fomer executives involved in the alleged cover-up could be stripped of their pensions.

The government is putting £40 million into reforming the CQC to ensure that its inspections are conducted by experts and result in Ofsted-style reports which give confidence to the public about standards at their local hospital, Hunt said.