The departure of the Care Quality Commission’s first chair after 21 months will leave a “vacuum of leadership” at the regulator, according to the Conservatives.
Barbara Young, who joined the commission in May 2008, has announced that she will step down as chair on 1 February.
“Having overseen the major task of creating a single regulator for health and social care and pointed it in the right direction, I have decided that it will be for others to take it forward,” she said in a statement.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley expressed surprise at Baroness Young’s decision, saying it would “leave a vacuum of leadership at the commission, which will need to be filled following the general election”.
“Breakdown” in relations
Lansley said Baroness Young had wanted to make changes in the inspection and enforcement regime of the CQC, and end the “health check” assessment system.
He added that her decision to leave before April demonstrated “the breakdown that has happened between Labour ministers and their flagship regulator”.
However, the allegation of a dispute between the regulator and government ministers was rejected by a Department of Health spokesperson.
“It is categorically untrue that the DH has prevented tougher regulation,” the spokesperson said. “Far from it. We set up the Care Quality Commission with stronger powers over a wider range of healthcare providers precisely in order to further ensure safe high quality services for patients.”
Young’s decision comes a week after the CQC was criticised for treating councils unfairly in its annual performance assessment.
Jenny Owen, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said the eight councils rated “adequate” did not know they were going to be categorised as “priority for improvement” after yesterday’s assessment until she informed them.
The CQC became the independent regulator of all health and adult social care in England after assuming the responsibilities of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission in April 2009.
Health secretary Andy Burnham thanked Baroness Young for establishing the CQC and her role in ensuring “the highest standards of care and patient safety”.
CQC deputy chair Jo Williams will act as chair until a successor is appointed.