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CQC boss heads for the exit: “I’ve always told it as it is”

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 27 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3567

Rebecca Coombes talks to Mike Richards about hospital inspections and standards ahead of his retirement

Mike Richards is something of a household name in medical circles. A consultant medical oncologist, then professor of palliative care, Richards was the first “health tsar” appointed by a buoyant Labour government in 1999.

Fourteen years later, came another first. This time as England’s first chief inspector of hospitals, a job he leaves this week after four years in the media spotlight, never more so than when calling out poor quality standards in hospitals, including some of our most prestigious institutions. Richards has, he tells The BMJ, always been “prepared to tell it as it is, even when that is not always convenient.” He is officially retiring but, when pressed, alludes to “unfinished business” in cancer care.

Speaking at the Care Quality Commission’s headquarters in London, Richards defends the record of hospital inspection on his watch.

A new inspection regime was launched in 2013 in the grim aftermath of the public inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal and Richards, an urbane and shrewd operator, was the consummate safe pair of hands picked to run it.

Spotlight on best and worst

In the initial wave, mega inspection teams of up to 50 people reported on all the core services at each acute trust in England. The process revealed huge variation between trusts, and in subsequent waves also took some high profile scalps—both Addenbrooke’s and the Barts Health Trust were put into special measures in 2015.

Richards bridles at the suggestion that the CQC has been guilty at times of showboating, and of having golden children such as Frimley Park, Salford Royal, and Manchester Royal Infirmary—institutions rated as outstanding that are serially trotted out as an example to all.

“I can honestly say that my judgment has never been politically interfered …

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