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Resignation of CQC head was ‘overdue’

The decision of the head of the care and health watchdog to announce her resignation has been welcomed by a leading disabled people’s organisation.

Cynthia Bower announced her resignation – which will not take effect until August – on the same day the Department of Health (DH) published the findings of a critical “performance and capability review” of the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Bower has been CQC’s chief executive since its launch in 2009, but last September fended off calls for her resignation following heavy criticism by the Commons health select committee, after CQC inspections fell by an “unacceptable” 70 per cent during the second half of 2010-11.

The committee said CQC’s senior leadership had failed in its duty to warn the government about the problems caused by the “administrative” task of having to register thousands of dentists for the first time.

CQC was also heavily criticised last year for its failure to take action over concerns raised by a whistleblower who had passed on allegations of serious abuse at Winterbourne View, a private “hospital” for people with learning difficulties.  The health committee described CQC’s actions on Winterbourne View as “woefully inadequate”.

CQC had already faced heavy criticism over plans to reduce inspections of care facilities through its new “risk-based” system of regulation, which focused on poorer homes while leaving others to submit their own written self-assessments.

This week, Sue Bott, director of development and lead on co-production for Disability Rights UK, welcomed Bower’s decision to resign.  She said Winterbourne View had left people “with a feeling that the interests of disabled people were not always being safeguarded” by CQC.

She added: “I think it is right that she takes responsibility. I am surprised that she hasn’t resigned before now.”

She said the select committee had found that CQC’s priorities “were all wrong”. “I think that is absolutely right. It has to have come from the top, to focus almost entirely on registration at the expense of regular inspections.

“In our dealings with CQC we have always found it a little chaotic, and in particular in 2010-11 it seemed to us to be particularly chaotic. We had our concerns.”

This week’s review said CQC’s achievements were “considerable”, having merged the three previous regulators, set up a new regulatory system, and registered more than 21,000 care and health providers in less than two years.

And it said CQC had made “significant improvements” in the last nine months, but was guilty of “shortcomings” in its early years and faced “operational and strategic difficulties” which had “seriously challenged public confidence in its role”.  It highlighted CQC’s “ineffective” response to the Winterbourne View whistleblower.

The review said CQC must “become more strategic”, strengthen its board, improve the consistency of its inspections, and ensure there were enough inspectors to meet future demand.

CQC insisted that Bower’s resignation was not due to criticism in the review, and added: “She thinks it is the right time. She feels she is going while there have been some positive things said in that report.”

Bower said she was pleased the review “recognises the scale of what has been achieved – and in particular the significant improvements made over the last nine months”.

News provided by John Pring at