UK & World News

  • 21 December 2013, 23:04

Row Over NHS 'Too Powerful To Criticise' Claim

The chairman of the NHS watchdog has sparked a political row after saying the health service has become "too powerful to criticise".

Care Quality Commission (CQC) boss David Prior says people have become scared of complaining about poor care.

He warned the service's perceived status as a "national religion" fuelled the problem and some areas of care were "out of control" because honesty about failings was not tolerated.

Even the most senior staff were afraid of speaking out despite millions of patients receiving a "wholly unsatisfactory" service from GPs and hospitals, Mr Prior added.

But Labour, which created the CQC when in government, denied the NHS is 'too powerful' to be criticised.

It is precisely the watchdog's role to identify problems and failures and ensure criticism was used to improve patient care, according to the opposition.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph Mr Prior said of the NHS: "It became too powerful to criticise. When things were going wrong people didn't say anything. If you criticised the NHS - the attitude was how dare you?

"No organisation should be put on such a high pedestal that it is beyond criticism. Now it is getting more honest about our failings - which I think makes it more likely that we will address them."

Mr Prior said he has found a "chillingly defensive" culture where even the most "alpha male surgeons" felt frightened to speak out for fear of ending their careers.

"I had not realised that the culture in some of our hospitals was so damaged," he said. "That was an awakening."

He called for the "out of control" system of emergency care to be made a priority for reform and said it was "wholly unsatisfactory" that so many patients struggled to get an appointment with their GP.

And Mr Prior branded Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt "crazy" for telephoning round hospital chief executives who had missed A&E targets.

He said: "Of course he's doing it, because he's held accountable but what it all leads to is more money being put into A&E departments when that money should probably be put into primary and community care to stop people falling ill."

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "The focus now needs to be on the winter crisis engulfing A&E. When Labour left office 98% of patients were seen within 4 hours, but the Government continues to miss its own lowered A&E target."

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