The former head of the Care Quality Commission accused of conspiring to suppress a report into a flawed inspection of an NHS Trust has categorically denied being involved in a cover up.
Cynthia Bower, 57, who resigned from the £200,000 post last year, said she and her former colleagues had been “hung out to dry” by the CQC and had not been given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Her comments came as Cumbria police announced they were investigating whether any criminal offence may have occurred during the alleged cover-up of a damning review of an inspection at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, where up to 16 babies and two mothers are feared to have died because of poor care.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, the first she has given since she resigned last year, Ms Bower said she had been forced to leave her home in Birmingham and go “on the run” as a result of the media furore provoked by the allegations.
She accused the CQC of commissioning a report from management accountants Grant Thornton that was neither fair nor reasonable and “against natural justice”.
It alleged she had been involved with colleagues in a decision to delete the internal review of the inspection at the Morecambe Bay hospitals at a meeting in March 2012.
Her deputy Jill Finney was alleged to have ordered that the review be binned supported by Ms Bower and Anna Jefferson, media manager who is alleged to have said: “Are you kidding me? This can never be in the public domain.”
All three executives deny the allegations. Ms Bower said: “I can’t speak for someone else’s interpretation. All I can say is I didn’t say it [delete the report], no one else said it and the report still exists. I categorically deny the words that have been put in people’s mouths.”
She said the allegations were a matter for the police and should never have been investigated by a firm of accountants. “I have no reason to be concerned by a police investigation – I would have welcomed it. It would have been a fairer and more reasonable process.”
She added: “This is a report that has hung people out to dry for something we categorically deny.”
She admitted the CQC inspection process had failed to uncover failings at the Morecambe Bay trust. “We should have registered it with conditions,” she said. But she could not say what action the CQC took to improve inspections. “Many changes were already in place. We had to learn on the job.”
She said she was “taking legal advice” on how to respond to the allegations. “I am unemployable. I have been accused of suppressing a report about babies dying in hospital. Who wants to give me a job?”
A former director of operations at the CQC claimed yesterday he was sacked after raising serious concerns about the way the regulator was run.
David Johnstone said he was escorted off the premises then hit with a gagging order after putting together a plan to introduce fundamental changes in the organisation.