The health expert appointed to improve patient safety following the Stafford Hospital scandal has said that prime minister David Cameron should be responsible for care standards.
Professor Don Berwick, a former adviser to US president Barack Obama, said “only leaders can take action” to improve NHS safety.
Speaking at a patient safety improvement event where health secretary Jeremy Hunt was present, Professor Berwick said: “When interdependency becomes the hallmark of the processes we’re in, only leaders can take action.
“The burden on boards, executives, clinical leaders, nurses, physicians, pharmacists, therapists is immense.
“And I must say, as the ministry’s presence today testifies to, in this case, in this country, given the way your NHS works it goes straight to number 10 Downing Street.
“When leaders become absolutely focused on the improvement of care and excellence and it becomes the day to day work, we get a shot at real system change.”
He added: “I think public accountability, the politicisation if you want, of the NHS is not a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing.
“Because there is accountability, the buck does stop somewhere and it stops in your case at the top of your nation.”
Professor Berwick, who was appointed by the prime minister to advise the NHS on preventing patient harm following the breakdown of care at Mid Staffordshire hospitals, emphasised the importance of transparency in the NHS.
He said: “Only by turning the lights on what we do, can we ever learn what the next thing to do is.
“Transparency is key to improving.”
Professor Berwick, together with a team of experts from America and the UK, will report their recommendations to the Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board in July.
Speaking yesterday, Professor Berwick said the failings at Stafford Hospital were not the result of individual staff members, but the system.
He said: “Do not distance yourself from the staff at Mid Staffordshire. They, like you would have been, were embedded in an environment unable to protect them against the problems of human perception, human factors and human group process.”
Professor Berwick had flown to the NHS event from Boston. Commenting on the marathon runners who ran back towards the explosion to help those who were hurt, he said: “In a way, I think that’s about where you are with Mid Staffs, which direction are you going to run? I think the right answer is run towards it because the chance for success is enormous.”
Mid Staffordshire was the central of a public inquiry into patient safety at Stafford Hospital, where patients were “routinely neglected” between 2005 and 2009 and up to 1,200 patients may have died needlessly.
The Francis Report said there was “appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people”, some of whom were given the wrong medication or left lying in their own urine and excrement for days.
Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, who was head of the strategic health authority charges with overseeing hospitals in Mid Staffordshire, has not resigned over the incident despite pressure from backbench MPs and victims relatives to step aside.
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.