Dame Jo Williams, the outgoing chairman of a Government-appointed health regulator, was forced to apologise to a committee of MPs yesterday for making public allegations about the mental health of a whistleblower.
Dame Jo, who has stepped down as head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), was accused of trying to discredit Kay Sheldon, a member of the board, with assertions about her state of mind after Ms Sheldon spoke out about alleged poor leadership and safety breaches at the CQC.
Ms Sheldon, who is still on the board, raised concerns about the culture of the organisation last November, while giving evidence to the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust's public inquiry into the deaths of dozens of patients. Last month, The Independent revealed that Dame Jo had queried Ms Sheldon's mental state with senior officials at the Department of Health, and asked the former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, to remove Ms Sheldon from the board on the day she gave evidence to the inquiry.
Appearing before the Health Select Committee, Dame Jo said Ms Sheldon had requested a health assessment but said it was "inappropriate" that she did not share the resulting three-page occupational health doctor's letter with Ms Sheldon. Dame Jo went on to make further allegations about the whistleblower's mental state before withdrawing them and apologising after demands from Labour MP Valerie Vaz.
Dame Jo told the committee that she had been "surprised" to learn about Ms Sheldon's decision to speak at the Mid-Staffordshire inquiry, and hinted that the recent revelations about Ms Sheldon had contributed to her resignation last week.
Later Ms Sheldon said that Dame Jo's remarks to the committee were "inaccurate and distorted", and that it was Dame Jo who had asked her to see an in-house occupational health officer after she had been physcially unwell.