Lansley rejects call to sack whistleblowing CQC board member

Health secretary decides Kay Sheldon should remain on the Care Quality Commission board. Sheldon says that the CQC's chair wrote to Lansley calling for her removal after she decided to openly criticise the regulator's leadership.

Sheldon declared herself pleased with the decision but disappointed by her treatment

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has rejected calls from the Care Quality Commission’s leadership to sack its whistleblowing board member, Kay Sheldon.

In a letter to CQC chair Jo Williams, Lansley said he expected Sheldon to “continue to operate as a fully engaged and active member of the board”. Williams had written to Lansley asking him to use his powers to remove Sheldon from the board last November, says Sheldon. The CQC has never commented on the claim but Sheldon said a letter she received from Lansley in March confirmed that Williams had asked for her removal.

Williams is believed to have made the request to Lansley last November, on the day Sheldon gave highly critical evidence about the CQC’s leadership to the public inquiry into the monitoring of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, triggered by the scandal of excessive mortality rates at Stafford Hospital.

Sheldon told the inquiry that the CQC’s board was unable to perform its role in holding then chief executive Cynthia Bower and other executives to account because board members’ concerns were “sidestepped”, and they received “little useful information” on CQC performance. She called for Bower to go, was highly critical of Williams’ role as chair and said she had raised concerns internally but “to no avail”.

In its response to Sheldon’s evidence to the inquiry, the CQC rejected her claims, though a Department of Health review of the CQC, published in February this year, partially endorsed Sheldon’s view. It said that the board had only recently started playing a “stronger role in constructively challenging the executive team”. Bower resigned on the day of the review’s publication.

In response to Lansley’s letter calling for her to remain on the board, Sheldon said: “Obviously I am very pleased with this outcome but I am deeply disappointed with how CQC has responded to me through all of this. This dates from last summer when I first began raising serious issues internally – reasonably and appropriately – which ultimately led me to approach the Mid Staffs Public Inquiry.”

Sheldon added that she was looking forward to “being part of CQC’s future, under the leadership of [new chief executive] David Behan, and in particular to champion the perspectives of people who use services which, after all, is the reason I was appointed in the first place”.

In the CQC’s response to Lansley’s decision, Williams said: “We have recently strengthened our board with the addition of Anna Bradley and Steve Hitchins. I look forward to working with them and Kay and our other board members to guide CQC in its vital role of ensuring the safety and quality of health and social care services.”

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults editor.

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