Exclusive: New Tory cronyism row as CQC head faces scrutiny

Conservatives accused of politicising the care standards watchdog

The Government has been accused of politicising the hospitals watchdog after the chair of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) called for more private sector involvement in the NHS.

David Prior, a former Tory MP who served as the party’s chief executive and deputy chairman, had said in an article in a Sunday newspaper that the NHS was in need of “serious change” and needed “more competition to drive up standards of care; more entrants into the market from private sector companies, the voluntary sector and other care providers”.

But last night Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, told The Independent it was “not the job” of the chairman of the independent health watchdog, responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of health and social care services, to make the case for greater private sector involvement in the NHS.

“He made a sustained attack on the NHS and called for more privatisation,” Mr Burnham said. “Were those comments reflecting the policy of the CQC, are they the policy of the Government or are they personal comments? We need to hear from the Government about whether these are appropriate comments for the chairman of the regulator to be making.”

Labour will challenge the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, about the “politicisation” of the regulator in an Opposition Day debate in the Commons today.

The row comes days after the outgoing head of the schools inspectorate Ofsted, Labour’s Baroness Morgan, claimed she had been the victim of a “determined effort from No 10” to appoint more Conservative supporters to top positions in public bodies. Mr Prior’s intervention added to a debate which has become highly politicised since the Coalition’s health reforms. The Government backs the competitive tendering of health services to “any qualified provider”, while Mr Burnham has admitted the former Labour government “let the market in too far” and has warned that competition is harming the health service.

Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham (Getty) Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham (Getty)
The Conservatives hit back last night, attacking Mr Burnham’s record as Health Secretary and accusing him of putting pressure on the watchdog to downplay problems at hospitals, an accusation he has strenuously denied.

“Andy Burnham knows all about politicising the regulator,” a Conservative source said. “This is the man who phoned the former Labour chair to complain about a press release exposing poor care. We have legislated to give the CQC independence precisely so that they no longer have to fear ministerial interference when they speak out.”

Mr Prior, a former steel executive, was appointed chairman of the CQC by Mr Hunt in December 2012, following the resignation of Dame Jo Williams in the wake of criticism of the watchdog over the Winterbourne View care home scandal and the organisation’s treatment of whistleblowers.

He was the Tory MP for North Norfolk from 1997 to 2001, when he was defeated by the Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, who is now a Coalition health minister. He has worked in the NHS for 12 years, becoming chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in 2002.

His article in The Sunday Telegraph came one year after the publication of Robert Francis QC’s report on the Mid Staffordshire trust scandal, which catalogued serious care failings. Mr Prior also called for clinicians to take on more leadership roles in the NHS to improve care.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (Getty Images) Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (Getty Images)
Mr Hunt will say today that the report was “a catalyst to improve care” throughout the NHS. In words which echo Mr Prior’s article, he is expected to say that the work of “transforming the culture” of the health service is not complete, but that the “Francis effect” had seen “a shift in priorities – new inspections, more nurses and a stronger voice for patients”.

However, there was also criticism from NHS nurses today, with a survey of more than 500 in the Nursing Times revealing that more than half still think wards are “dangerously” under-staffed some or all of the time.

Mr Prior’s comments received a mixed reaction in the profession. Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association Council, welcomed the call for doctors to take on management roles, but said greater opportunities for the private sector would “destabilise” the NHS.

“The NHS has faced unprecedented upheaval over the past year and the financial outlook remains dire as the service struggles to meet budget shortfalls totalling billions of pounds…” he said. “Doctors are very clear that the primary mission of the NHS is to deliver good patient care. We support patients having real choices about their treatment, but choice should not be used to destabilise good NHS services through using the NHS as a vehicle for privatisation.”

In an Opposition Day debate on A&E services, Mr Burnham will today accuse the Government of blocking the NHS from achieving long-term improvements for patients, arguing that the health reforms have further fragmented the health service, making it harder for hospitals to work with GPs and local authorities to coordinate the care of the most vulnerable patients and relieve pressures on stretched A&Es. 

Calling for “a reversal of competition policies in the NHS” he will say that rules that demand more NHS contracts are put out to private tender and oblige NHS organisations to abide by competition law should be revoked.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

    £47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker