The health secretary describes original system for regulating dentists as 'completely crazy' – but insists necessary changes have been made
Jeremy Hunt criticised the inspection regime at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) when it required the 'same people' to check dentists and hospitals.
The comment came in the wake of fresh fears about standards at NHS hospitals, after staff at no fewer than 119 of 161 acute Trusts said they feared safety is under threat.
The alarm was raised with the CQC, which has used the information from the ‘whistleblowers’ to help decide which hospitals to investigate.
One of the criticisms of the NHS watchdog is that it has been 'asked to do too much', with responsibility for regulating social care, primary care, dentistry and hospitals.
Asked about the latest fears, Mr Hunt said a new, tougher inspection regime at the CQC was 'a world apart from what happened before'.
Describing the system he inherited from Labour, he said: 'They abolished expert inspections, so you had the same people inspecting hospitals as inspecting dentists – completely crazy.'
A department of health (DH) spokesman said Mr Hunt was commenting on changes already in the pipeline, rather than pointing towards future reforms.
Those changes saw specialists recruited by the CQC – including in dentistry – rather than inspectors with responsibility across all branches of the NHS.
The watchdog first announced the shake-up in June, saying: 'Generalist inspectors will no longer exist as CQC moves towards specialist inspection teams.'
In mid-October, it said it had received 'clear public support' for the changes, after consulting almost 3,000 people over a three-month period.
A spokesman said: 'CQC has around 20 dental specialists who can be called on if specialist advice is needed during an inspection.
'CQC will be publishing a signposting document early next year that will outline the changes to dental sector inspections.'
Barry Cockcroft, chief dental officer for England, said the changes were already bearing fruit, adding: 'The CQC has taken on people with specific knowledge of dentistry.
'The changes reflect the feedback it received on the way the CQC was working, to help them inspect practices where there are concerns.'
At the end of last year, 10,139 dental services had registered with the CQC, with their performance described as 'very good compared to other parts of the health and care system'.
Of the 3,021 services inspected up to that point, no fewer than 92% were found to be meeting all necessary standards.
By Rob Merrick, parliamentary correspondent