Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has slammed "unacceptable" failings at the Care Quality Commission and an alleged 'cover-up' of its botched handling of complaints at Furness General Hospital, involving a number of infant deaths.

Just as the dust from the Mid Staffordshire scandal is beginning to settle, an independent inquiry into why the CQC failed to identify and act on issues at the hospital, which ultimately led to the deaths of several babies, has revealed "poor governance" and "questionable decision-making" by the regulator.

Addressing the House of Commons yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the report "lists what went wrong over many years: unclear regulatory processes; reports commissioned and then withheld; lack of sharing of key information; and communication problems throughout the organisations". 

"Most of the facts are not in dispute. All of them are unacceptable", he stressed.

According to the report, ordered by new CQC leaders and written by independent consultants Grant Thornton, the regulator gave what were essentially false assurances about the hospital to the public and Monitor, and failed to identify and address its problems quickly enough.

Cover up

Disturbingly, it also concluded that senior management at the CQC may well have ordered an internal report detailing the regulator's failures to be buried, in what "might well have constituted a deliberate cover up".

"The new team running the organisation have made it clear there was a completely unacceptable attempt to cover up the deficiencies in their organisation", Hunt told ministers, adding: "As we saw with Mid Staffs, a culture in the NHS had been allowed to develop where defensiveness and secrecy were put ahead of patient safety and care".

The CQC said the findings reveal "just how poor" its oversight was, stressing: "This is not the way things should have happened. It is not the way things will happen in the future".

The regulator was, however, quick to point that since these events it has completely changed its executive team and has "completely rewritten" its strategy, with a radical overhaul of hospital inspections starting in the Autumn.