Also in 2018, Kumar visited a hospital where “the whole of the surgical division had to be inspected”. He was the only consultant in the team. “They were asking me to inspect orthopedic surgery, hepatobiliary, vascular, ENT – and multiple other specialties across two sites.” He told them it wasn’t possible, and was beyond his expertise, but he said that he was told they didn’t have enough staff, and to complete the inspection.
This time, in his complaint, he wrote: “The CQC itself has criticized and ranked some trusts negatively for lack of staff, but it appears that the regulator itself is in serious trouble here.” He suspects this email was “the last straw”. (He has a jolly laugh, even at painful moments.) In February 2019, he was sacked. “They showed no mercy.” If only, he says, one person at the CQC had noted, “Kumar was recruited for his professional standing, has somebody listened to him?” He was shocked by the regulator’s behavior. “They considered me a thorn in their side. Their response when you point out their inadequacies can be brutal.”
He says he was subjected to “falsehoods” and “character assassination behind my back” – there is astonishment in his voice even now. From his experience, he feels the CQC has a “bullying culture”. He feels they violated their own values. “The standards they want others to follow do not apply to them. That is the impression I got.”
For example, after his tribunal case was filed, court documents show that CQC officials emailed his employers asking whether there were any “past issues” on his file. “They’re misusing their authority as a regulator. It’s a serious offense in my opinion. They have no right to request information from my employer.” There was no dirt to dig up, but that’s not Kumar’s point. “It’s unbelievable that this was happening in the offices of the prime regulator of health care in the country.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) supported him, funding his case. As the judges acknowledged, he says: “I have an untarnished reputation.” He knows he could have kept quiet. “It’s not my job. But I felt so insulted, wronged. I didn’t want this to hang over my head until I died. It’s a blot on my career.”
He was fortunate in this “David and Goliath scenario” to have support. “My family stood by me – my wife and two children. A few close friends. And most of my colleagues.” Although not all raised their head above the parapet. “It was a lonely place in the court. I was cross-examined for three and a half days by a QC. I had three CQC officials sitting not very far from me. I found it extremely difficult and stressful. I lost sleep.” The first phase of the hearing was in November 2021. Usually, he says, he is “very active in the Christmas celebrations on our street”. That year, he “sat inside”.
It’s been “a long battle”. But the response to the judgment makes him feel that “I fought for thousands and thousands of NHS workers and patients. I feel vindicated.” Now, he’s receiving flurries of emails, letters and phone calls from other health-care staff, saying they have had similar experiences, and thanking him. “I’m not alone.”
It begs the question, why would any esteemed clinician want to be a CQC special adviser? “They’ve lost the confidence of the health-care community now,” Kumar believes. Yet he sees no sign of anyone in the CQC being held accountable for their actions. There should be consequences for those who “failed in their duty”, he says.
It’s not the regulator’s first controversy. The CQC rated maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust as “good” in 2015. The Ockenden Report, published earlier this year and led by senior registered midwife Donna Ockenden, found that over 20 years, 300 babies died or were left brain damaged due to “avoidable errors” in care.