A former health authority chief has told an inquiry that there were no alarm bells over Stafford Hospital prior to a damning report into serious failings of care there.

Cynthia Bower, who was chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority (WMSHA) between 2006 and 2008, told the inquiry into appalling standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust she was “sorry”  for the failings.

But she added between 2006 and 2008, she was not aware of any intelligence indicating the major failings at the hospital which caused between 400 and 1,000 deaths.

And she refused to accept her organisation failed to spot tell-tale signs of problems.

Ms Bower, who was later made the head the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said: “I wasn’t conscious at the time there was intelligence that we could have put together that would have said there were major failings of care.”

She did admit some warning signs were missed by the SHA such as complaints from patients and said: “That was the biggest signal we missed.

“(It was) distressing to learn of the failings of care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital and I offer my utmost and unreserved sympathy to patients and their carers and families.

“I am deeply sorry for what happened and for the fact we had oversight of the NHS in the region at that time and we didn’t pick up failings in care.”

Detailing how warning signs, such as patient complaints, poor Health Care Commission reports and serious untoward incident reports,

Ms Bower said the SHA did not have the capacity to have a detailed oversight of all of the region’s health services.

She also said a reorganisation of SHA’s and primary care trusts in 2006 had  caused a big upheaval and staff cuts of 60 per cent.

“We were not set up to have that capacity,” she said: “all NHS organisations have failings in care, what we were looking for were organisations that were competent to pick these up and deal with them in an appropriate way.”