Labour accused David Cameron of a “shabby” attempt to politicise the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal after the Prime Minister put some of the blame for hospital deaths on the target culture introduced by the previous government.
Defending NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson against calls for his resignation, Mr Cameron said that “others” should be considering their positions in the wake of last month’s Francis Report.
Aides to the PM declined to confirm whether Mr Cameron was referring to former Labour health ministers, including shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.
At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Cameron insisted Sir David - who was in charge of the Strategic Health Authority covering Mid-Staffordshire at the time of the scandal - had already “frankly and candidly” apologised for failings that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of patients.
“Everyone has to think of their responsibilities with regard to the dreadful events that happened at the Staffordshire hospital, including the fact that part of the problem was people following a very top-down, target-led agenda which led to patient care being put on the back-burner,” said the Prime Minister.
“David Nicholson has made his apology and wants to get on with his job of running an excellent NHS, and other people frankly should be thinking of their position too.”
Mr Cameron’s comments struck a much more party political tone than his immediate response to the Francis Report last month, when he told MPs that there should be no hunt for “scapegoats” for the failings at Stafford Hospital, where there were up to 1,200 excess deaths between 2005 and 2009.
A senior Labour spokesman described the PM’s comments as “a fairly shabby attempt to politicise the Francis Report”.
The spokesman added: “The Francis Report specifically said that no ministers were to blame. Cameron said in his statement afterwards that he wasn’t going to scapegoat people. This was a little cheap.”
The PM’s aides said he would not be producing a list of names of those he felt should be considering their positions, but agreed it was possible to infer from his comments that he was frustrated at the fact that no-one has stood down since Robert Francis reported a month ago.
Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said: “He was making a point which is consistent with the public inquiry, which is that a large number of organisations are having to look at their roles and responsibilities.
“One of the things the Francis Inquiry highlighted was the problem that arose because of too great a focus on financial measures and targets, rather than a broader culture of care and compassion, which is very much at the heart of the Government’s reform agenda for the NHS.”
Sir David was chief executive of three strategic health authorities, including Shropshire & Staffordshire, for 10 months between 2005 and 2006 - the height of the failings in care at Mid-Staffordshire Trust.
Relatives of those who died have repeatedly called for him to be sacked as NHS chief in the wake of the Francis Report.
But Mr Cameron has insisted he is doing “a very good job” and should be allowed to stay.
Sir David himself told the Commons Health Committee he was “absolutely determined” to stay in his job despite admitting failures over the Stafford Hospital scandal.
At PMQs, Labour backbencher Graham Stringer asked Mr Cameron: “How can the public have any confidence in the administration of the NHS when this man remains?
“Will the Prime Minister not sack him immediately?”
But Mr Cameron responded: “He has very frankly and very candidly apologised and acknowledged the mistakes that were made.”