Thursday, 20 June 2013

Who watches the watchers?

So the continuing scandal of Furness General Maternity Services and the ineptitude and cover-up at regulator CQC rolls on.

Today has been a tumultuous day.

First, CQC refused to name the 9 officials citing Data Protection Act as the reason why.  Then the government leant on them.  The Data Commissioner weighed in confirming that, in his view there it would be ok to name the officials if there was an overwhelming public interest.  We've also had a former Director of Public Prosecutions indicating that, in his view, those implicated in the cover-up could be investigated for misconduct in public office.

In media calls this morning those speaking for CQC were at pains to point out that many from the former management team had left - and, crucially had not been paid off.  That interesting line did hint that it was the former management team that was responsible.

Given all this pressure, and we are told, revised legal advice CQC's new management team then decided to publish the names.

Surprise, surprise they key people named on all came from the former senior management at CQC.  They have included Cynthia Bower, the former Chief Executive, her deputy Jill Finney and media manager Anna Jefferson.

At 10:30 tonight via BBC regional news we learnt that Jill Finney who had moved on from CQC has now lost her job at her present employer directly as a consequence of the scandal breaking today.

Whilst it must be right that those in positions of power and responsibility should be held accountable just pause and reflect and ponder whether in fact this is a day to celebrate or not.

I am no great fan of regulators - even though my day job puts me in contact with many of them.  This is because all too often they go about their business with arrogance and ineptitude and lack the humility to accept their mistakes.  There are some notable exceptions - but they are all too rare.

If the 'naming and shaming' leads to a change of culture at CQC and other regulators then today has been a good day.  I very much welcomed David Beehan's (CQC's present Chief Executive) comments today to the effect that he didn't want to be part of any organisation that did not uphold the highest standards of public conduct.  I wish him well in turning things around.

But will the naming and shaming lead to regulators being less flexible.  I fear it will make those running our regulators more likely to adopt less courageous positions - perhaps lots more 'bottom covering?'  This is potentially as serious as regulators that can't be trusted to the right thing - which I see as imperilling the rule of law.

And finally - we must always remember that the real scandal was the needless death of babies and mothers at a hospital - and the management and the care provided there.  That scandal is in the hands of the police.  We mustn't lose sight of these needless deaths with our fascination at a regulator on the wrack.