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Editorial Tuesday 11 September 2012: CQC chair Dame Jo Williams ignores gun laws; shoots self in both feet

Gun laws are there to be respected, one would piously hope in the world of health policy.

Likewise those against self-mutilation.

Alas, they were vigorously flaunted today by Dame Jo Williams - outgoing (in the sense of exiting) chair of the Care Quality Commission.

She shot herself in both feet with her own evidence to the Commons Health Select Committee, in a bloody massacre that would have seen Sam Peckinpah applaud.


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Dame Jo was giving evidence to the Health Select Committee today alongside the CQC's new chief executive, the well-respected David Behan.

The keenly-awaited section (scroll forward to about 11.29) was her evidence about her high-profile, failed efforts to remove the dissident non-executive director Kay Sheldon, who gave essential and damning evidence about the regulator's failure to the Francis Public Inquiry, which led Robert Francis to describe her as a "whistleblower".

It would be nice to say that Dame Jo handled her evidence about this with dignity, honesty, respect and self-awareness.

It would, however, be an unmitigated lie. There may have been more embarrassingly dreadful appearances before a Parliamentary select committee, but there will not have been many.

Dame Jo Williams told the committee that "the board was sighted on concerns (about CQC performance); we were a very small board".  Which was nice.

On the specifics of Kay Sheldon's objections, she continues, "there is a difference between raising a concern and expecting there's immediately going to be a solution".


Of Kay Sheldon's concerns, Dame Jo said, "last autumn we were devloping the board; Kay Sheldon told us she was embarrassed and ashamed to be a member of the board. She left the meeting, and was found to be in considerable distress ... I told her I had a duty to the board and to her ... following her decision to go to Mid-Staffs Inquiry, my colleagues and I felt there was a breakdown of trust ... it was not possible to arrange when I sat down with her and had an appraisal".

I am not going to repeat here the copious details of the distress in which Dame Jo Williams subsequently alleged that Kay Sheldon had been found following that meeting.

I am, however, going to say that the representation portrayed by Dame Jo Williams marked a staggering, inhumane, and disgraceful low on the part of a public servant, paid out of our taxes, working in the health field - and therefore expected to have some degree of sensitivity regarding health issues; and specifically mental health issues.

To the considerable credit of the health select committee, she was immediately and forcefully challenged to withdraw her remarks.

Dame Jo also said, "there are processes and procedures we have within CQC which she Kay Sheldon) did not choose to use; she could have gone to the Secretary Of State or a Minister ... she was working as part of a group".

Dame Jo Williams was unable to answer Rosie Cooper MP's question whether Kay Sheldon had been told that she could only go to Mid-Staffs as an observer, but not to give evidence. Chair Stephen Dorrell asked a further question about the role of CQC executive Jill Finney in that discussion, which Dame Jo was also not able to answer.

As health select committee member Rosie Cooper MP told David Behan, "a board member does not need the permission of other board members to do their duty".

Dame Jo Williams also told health select committee member Andrew George MP that she commissioned mental health assessment from MediGold of Kay Sheldon without her consent and knowledge. Williams' answer was that the document on Kay Sheldon was a 3-page record of a telephone conversation, not an assessment.

I have had a variety of reactions to watching evidence to Parliament. As a rule, the desire to laugh has been frequent; the desire to throw up relatively rare.

On the basis of what I witnessed today, it is unavoidable to conclude that Dame Jo Williams is flagrantly a person who should be nowhere near the key business of regulating healthcare and vulnerable people.

I would not expect Dame Jo Williams to learn anything at all from this: she has already had that opportunity, and failed signally to do so.

I am deeply, lastingly concerned that anybody at all, anywhere in any position of power in the health system allowed this person to get work and keep work in this vital field.

For an individual to be so appallingly, tragically unsuited to their job in healthcare regulation is a personal sadness - and a major risk to those they should protect.

For the system to so comprehensively fail to notice their manifest unsuitability to do the job should be of major, system-wide concern.