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.

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Extras
indybest
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
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

    Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

    £130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - 9-12 Months

    £14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is immedi...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Communications Executive

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

    £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness