A Care Quality Commission board member has called for the resignation of chief executive Cynthia Bower over a failure of leadership at the regulator.
Kay Sheldon's call came in a statement to the public inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal.
"People who use health and social care services need a strong and effective regulator to support the provision of safe and high quality care," said Sheldon. "There are lots of good people working on some some great initiatives in CQC some of which I've been directly involved with. However it is clear that a change of leadership and culture is needed to ensure the organisation is effective and accountable."
As quoted in The Guardian, she said: "I do not see how the organisation can move forward in a robust, coherent or useful way without better leadership. We need a chief executive that can manage the organisation and currently we do not have that."
The newspaper reports that in her evidence, she said that staff were afraid to speak out about the way the organisation was run, the board was expected to rubberstamp decisions by the CQC's executive team and that some CQC inspectors felt ill-equipped for their roles. She also said other board members had concerns about Bower's leadership.
Sheldon has used mental health services and was formerly a commissioner at the Mental Health Act Commission, the watchdog for detained mental health patients whose functions were absorbed by the CQC in 2009. Her comments come at the end of a turbulent year for the CQC. It has admitted failing patients who faced alleged abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital by not responding to a whistleblower, and been slammed by MPs for a sharp drop in inspections from 2010-11, after resources were switched to its programme of re-registering care providers.
The CQC will make a full response in evidence to the Mid-Staffordshire inquiry today. However, it has released two statements rejecting Sheldon's charges, one from the organisation and one from Sheldon's fellow CQC commissioners.
"This statement is not an accurate representation of CQC, its leadership or its culture," said the other commissioners. "In addition, it contains a number of factual inaccuracies relating to the functioning of the board and the operational aspects of CQC."
They added: "Not every aspect of running a highly complex and multifaceted organisation can run smoothly - CQC has made mistakes, which it has acknowledged and from which it has learned. But the direction of travel on what has been a steep learning curve, has overwhelmingly been one of steady improvement and delivery.
"CQC’s executive team and staff have performed well, given the many external factors with which they have had to contend."
The CQC statement read: "This process of evolution has been a difficult one for everyone involved. Our staff have been placed under enormous pressure to deliver and, understandably, some have found the pace of change challenging. However, we completely refute the charge that CQC tolerates a culture which does not support its employees. Our executive team is committed to driving the organisation forward, but only with the engagement of our most valuable resource - our staff."