COUNTY hospitals will undergo their biggest ever inspection next week in what is a key barrier to long-sought-after foundation status.

Some 60 Care Quality Commission (CQC) staff will “descend” on Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, Churchill Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

Its regime has been broadened after regulators missed poor care that led to preventable deaths at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Inspectors will spend two days at Oxfordshire’s hospitals including Banbury’s Horton General and then return in the following two weeks. The commission will also hold two public meetings in Oxford and Banbury on Monday to get patients’ views.

Sir Jonathan Michael, chief executive of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the sites, said the inspection will be “much tougher”.

It was last given a three out of six “satisfactory” rating in October but he said the regime is different with the trust among the first to be inspected.

He said: “The last CQC inspection we had, maybe half a dozen people came and visited us. This time we are expecting 60 to descend on the organisation.”

An “enormous” number of 2,000 documents have been handed to the regulator, he said.

Eight core services – A&E, surgery, medicine, critical care, maternity, children, end-of-life care and outpatients – will be subject to scrutiny. Each will be reviewed as safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led with the trust rated outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.

Results are expected by the end of April from the inspection, led by the new Chief Inspector of Hospitals Professor Sir Mike Richards.

Sir Jonathan said: “There will undoubtedly be areas, which we know about, where we could be doing better.

“What we are hoping they don’t do is to come here and discover areas of some issues where we need to get better that we don’t know about. I think we have a pretty good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.”

Areas where workload is the heaviest, particularly emergency and elderly wards, have been targeted with extra staff, he said.

Yet he expects the CQC to highlight the county’s “bed-blocking” problem, where patients remain on wards despite being well enough to go home.

He said: “Oxfordshire as a system is probably among, if not the worst, in the country.”

A successful inspection will achieve foundation status – giving it greater control over decision-making from Government – by next April, he hopes.

The trust has been bidding for the status since 2011 and hoped to have it in place by last autumn.

But this was delayed by a shake-up of the CQC, which accepted its former approach was flawed.

Sir Jonathan said: “It seems a bit as though we have entered the 200m race on the flat and we find ourselves in an 800m hurdle race.”

The meetings will be held at Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate’s, and Banbury Town Hall, Bridge Street, at 6.30pm on Monday.