NHS row over Labour baroness who 'angered Andy Burnham by criticising ratings system'

Baroness Young

'Volatile': Baroness Young is said to have clashed with Health Secretary Andy Burnham after criticising the hospital ratings system

The Labour-appointed peer who unexpectedly quit as head of an NHS watchdog was at the centre of a an extraordinary row with ministers today.

Baroness Young stepped down as chair of the Care Quality Commission in the wake of disclosures that death rates at Basildon Hospital in Essex were 30 per cent higher than the national average.

Although Lady Young insisted her decision to resign was 'voluntary', her resignation has triggered a bitter feud with Government ministers.

Senior Government sources have accused the former CQC chairman of being 'volatile and hot-headed' and claim senior staff were on the brink of resigning over her management style.

According to reports, Lady Young is said to have angered Health Secretary Andy Burnham by criticising the hospital ratings system.

The Mail on Sunday yesterday quoted a senior source saying: 'Baroness Young is known for being very volatile. She has very strong opinions - not in itself a bad thing if you're the chair of a regulator - but she has "form" for causing problems with her strong personality.'

The newspaper also reported the source saying that several members of her staff were 'on the brink of resigning' over her management style.

Government officials tried to present Lady Young's appointment as a 'transitional' arrangement following her surprise resignation.

But her allies say she is the victim of a dirty-tricks campaign following a series of angry meetings with Mr Burnham.

They say that the Health Secretary repeatedly rejected her calls to improve the much-criticised system, which gave Basildon a 'good' rating just weeks before an unannounced inspection uncovered filthy wards and a high death rate.

A friend of Baroness Young said: 'Lady Young realised well before the Basildon story broke that the CQC's ratings system for hospitals was fundamentally flawed and should be dropped. The Department of Health wouldn't let her do that.'

The row over Baroness Young's resignation comes just days after the CQC was heavily criticised over the way it monitors patient care in hospitals by rating hospitals in four categories between 'poor' and 'excellent'. 

Health Secretary Andy Burnham

Row: Mr Burnham, pictured during a hospital visit, is said to be furious with Baroness Young

At the Basildon Trust, the hospital was given a 'good' rating - the second-best category - and scored 13 marks out of 14 for safety and cleanliness.

But weeks later an unannounced inspection revealed significantly higher than average death rates and dirty equipment. Officials found blood on curtains and chairs, catheter bags on floors, untrained nurses, and patients being treated on trolleys in the centre of the ward.

The report said at least 70 people died unnecessarily because of the conditions there.

Lady Young was appointed as a Labour peer by Tony Blair in 1997 but has sat as a crossbencher since taking up quango positions in 2000.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley described the row as a 'disgraceful turf war'.

He said: 'The conclusion that should have been drawn after we found out about the failure at Basildon and other hospitals is that the inspection regime has to be strengthened and toughened up.

'It is a disgrace that instead there seems to have been a turf war between Andy Burnham and the regulator and that our hospital inspection regime will be leaderless until the General Election.

'It makes it all the more vital that we have an early Election and a new Government to provide the focus and quality we need in the NHS.'

But a spokesman for Mr Burnham said: 'The ratings system will be changed - that's been under way for years. Any suggestion that the Department of Health or Andy are not supporting giving the CQC as much power as possible is just wrong.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'It is categorically untrue that this department has prevented tougher regulation. Far from it, we set up the CQC with stronger powers precisely in order to further ensure safe high-quality services for patients.

'From next April, the CQC will introduce a stronger inspection regime that provides an in-depth analysis of trust performance in real time. This will also be available online for the public to inspect.

'The Secretary of State decided to speed up implementation of this new system.'

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