The health regulator is going to be placed on an independent footing similar to the Bank of England to take hospital inspections out of the hands of politicians, Jeremy Hunt announced at the Conservative annual conference in Manchester.
The health secretary told Tory activists the government would start legislating next week to give the Care Quality Commission statutory independence in order to ensure it can be the “nation’s chief whistleblower” in hospitals.
Mr Hunt said the change would mean the CQC would not have to seek the approval of Whitehall before launching a probe into a hospital or care home.
He said: “As soon as Parliament returns we will legislate to give the quality watchdog the statutory independence it so badly lacked under Labour. This means never again can ministers or political advisers lean on them to suppress uncomfortable truths, and never again will care failings be covered-up by managers dancing to their political masters’ tune.
“We will also put the new chief inspector posts in statute, so that patients will always have powerful advocates to speak up for them without fear or favour.
“For the hundreds of families who suffered under a system that put political priorities first, we are determined to end the culture of poodle regulation, cover-ups, and closing ranks when whistle-blowers and relatives try to speak up.”
Ministers will amend the care bill as it passes through the House of Lords to make the reform.
In his conference speech, the health secretary said he had enjoyed a “wonderful year” since being appointed to the Department of Health.
And he launched a broad attack on the failures of Labour in government, highlighting a series of scandals including Mid Staffs, Basildon and Tameside hospitals.
Mr Hunt said: “Let’s be clear - in a huge system like the NHS, things go wrong and mistakes are made whichever party is in power.
“But tragically under Labour the system did everything it could to cover up these mistakes.
“As the country’s leading expert on hospital death rates Professor Sir Brian Jarman says, the Department of Health was a ‘denial machine’.”
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