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Nicholson: I am absolutely the right person to lead the NHS

NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson has told MPs that he is ‘absolutely the right person’ to lead the NHS through the upcoming reforms, despite calls for him to resign from his post.

Grilled by by the House of Commons Health Committee today over whether he was the correct leader for the NHS going forward, he said:  ‘I think I have a duty and a responsibility to manage the organisation over these great changes.’

In 2005 Sir David held the role of chief executive of the West Midlands strategic health authority that oversaw Stafford hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died because of failures in care.

Since a public inquiry into failures at the trust by Robert Francis QC, campaigners, including MPs, have called for his resignation, while the prime minister and GP leaders have backed him to stay in his role.

Sir David told MPs that patients were not the focus of the system during the period of the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, but insisted that the SHA, over which he presided at the time, had ‘no idea’ that there were such significant problems at the trust.

He told the committee: ‘During that period, across the NHS as a whole, patients were not the centre of the way the system operated.’

‘For a whole variety of reasons, not because people were bad but because there were a whole set of changes going on and a whole set of things we were being held accountable for from the centre, which created an environment where the leadership of the NHS lost its focus.’

‘I put my hands up to that and I was a part of that, but my learning from that was to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’

Refuting claims that nobody has been held to account over the scandal, Sir Nicholson said that the chairman, non-executive directors, finance director, corporate affairs director and medical director were all removed from their posts, and that he had recommended the suspended chief executive should not be placed in another NHS role.

However he admitted that he was ‘accountable in a narrow sense’ for merging three SHA into one and for moving 70 primary care trusts into about 40.

He added: ‘I do believe that, given my commitment to the constitution, given my understanding of the way the NHS operates, given my commitment to patients and the way I conceive things like transparency and opening up the NHS, I think I am absolutely the right person to take that forward.’

On the issue of gagging clauses, he said this was an ‘unacceptable and illegal’ practice, and he would look into closing a loophole by which trusts could sign off these payments without the DH and the Treasury’s approval, if he was legally able to do so.

He also voiced support for publishing staffing levels at hospitals, though rejected calls to sett a guideline for the minimum numbers of staff on a ward as this often had unintended and dangerous consequences.

Sir David ended his evidence to the committee with an apology to the families of victims, and he pledged to do everything in his power to ensure it would not happen again.

Readers' comments (8)

  • The question that comes skipping readily to mind is, when the leader of an organisation tasked with the assurance of a health economy is unaware that there are significant problems not just in a trust but in a system he is managing, surely that's as damning as knowing and doing nothing?

    The other question is asking why a leader, who at the time could not recognise the lack of patient focus in a system he was in charge of, should continue to run it?

    Was he willing to change the culture but unable? Just unaware? Either way it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.

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  • Perhaps he is just waiting for the somewhat juicy details of his "early retirement" package.

    Surely he cannot continue to remain as CX of the NHS Commissioning Board for much longer.

    If he remains the culture of targets over patients and patient's safety will continue despite his comments at today's Parliamentary Health Committee meeting.

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  • andrew Field

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  • Mark Struthers

    Andrew Field said,

    "New cultures need new leaders ASAP"

    But there isn't going to be a 'new culture' - it's going to be more of the same, only worse, with the 'upcoming reforms'. And that's the point.

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  • Vinci Ho

    One has to understand something called 'copying behaviour' from top to the middle and to the bottom especially rebels are not allowed to exist.
    'If adversity like this can be tolerated ,anything worse than this can be passed on with any complaint!'
    Analects of Confucius

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  • Vinci Ho

    ....without any complaint....'

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  • ‘During that period, across the NHS as a whole, patients were not the centre of the way the system operated.’
    No, thank you Alan Milburn. He was not Health Secretary at the time of the Staffordshire deaths but he was surely responsible to creating the system that led to them.

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  • Nhsfatcat

    There is such a culture of the 'man' at the top of having to jump with a big fat pay off when things go wrong. If he's willing to roll his sleeves up, get his hands dirty and sort the mess out, (that he cannot be blameless for,) he probably knows and understands why more now it has happened he can probably be a more effective leader. I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say 'I am the right man for the job.' He's just got to prove it, now -good luck

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