The Government watchdog which regulates Britain's hospitals and care homes is so poorly run it would be unable to spot another major scandal putting patients' lives at risk, it was claimed yesterday.
Two whistleblowers, including a serving board member, came forward to make a series of damning allegations against the Care Quality Commission (CQC), citing a "bullying" target-driven culture, plunging morale and lack of strategic vision.
Their claims, in sworn evidence to the Mid Staffordshire Hospital Inquiry, will increase pressure on ministers to announce a widespread shake-up at the top of the CQC when the Department of Health completes its internal review of the organisation in the New Year.
On Friday, the National Audit Office is expected to release a critical report suggesting that the CQC is not using its resources effectively. In extraordinary evidence to the final week of the inquiry, the two whistleblowers said the body's chief executive, Cynthia Bower, and chair, Dame Jo Williams, were not up to the job of running the regulator.
Kay Sheldon, a non-executive director and patients' champion, said strategy at the CQC was "reactive and led by reputation management and personal survival". She described how she was "afraid" of giving evidence in public, and how, after becoming upset during a board meeting, Dame Williams had suggested she might be suffering from mental health problems linked to her history of depression.
Mrs Sheldon said she had been "inundated" with support after deciding to give evidence to the inquiry, which is charged with examining the scandal in Stafford in which up to 1,200 patients are believed to have died in sometimes appalling conditions. She said in a statement: "My main concern is that the organisation is badly led with no clear strategy. The chair and chief executive do not have the leadership or strategic capabilities required. I don't feel it is a happy place to work and I don't feel it is particularly safe."
Compliance inspector Amanda Pollard said she was forced to go public with her concerns after being ignored by senior management over her concerns at the scrapping of specialist teams. She described how staff redeployed from the disbanded Healthcare Commission "were literally laughing" at "how bad" training for their new roles was. When new targets increasing the number of inspections were announced, staff were told: "If you don't like the heat get out of the kitchen."
Some were reduced to tears in meetings and warned that failing to reach quotas could result in their being "named and shamed", she said.
Earlier this year the CQC admitted failing to follow up claims of mistreatment at Winterbourne View care home near Bristol, run by one of Britain's largest providers and exposed by the BBC's Panorama, which showed residents being hit and humiliated. Ten people were charged yesterday in connection with the ill treatment and neglect of patients.
In a statement given to the inquiry three non-executives said they fully supported the chair. The inquiry is expected to report its findings in March.
Care home arrests: ten staff charged
Ten staff at the Winterbourne View care home in Hambrook, south Gloucestershire, have been charged with a string of offences against four victims. They will appear in court next month in Bristol to face allegations of ill treatment and neglect of patients. The private hospital was closed by its owners after a BBC Panorama programme, broadcast in May, contained undercover footage which appeared to show vulnerable residents being pinned down, slapped, doused in water and taunted.
Three men who have also been arrested on suspicion of causing ill treatment, remain on police bail.