nhsJust like a cancer, the culture of poor care in the NHS will keep spreading unless it is stopped in its tracks, according to Robert Francis QC who conducted the Stafford Hospital inquiry.

And like cancer, poor practice begins in isolated areas but then moves on to larger areas if untreated, he told delegates at a conference run by Action Against Medical Accidents (AAMA).

“There is always a challenge with a vast organisation that the culture will slip in little places and then bigger places. It is like a cancer,” Francis said

The AAMA said that the Francis report and the government’s response stressed the urgency to improve openness, transparency and candour in the NHS and in private healthcare.

As a result, from 1 April the NHS standard contract will include a duty of candour (to be open with patients about harm caused); the government has now agreed to bring a new statutory duty of candour covering all registered healthcare organisations (including GP practices and private healthcare) to be ‘policed’ by the CQC; there will be a ban on ‘gagging’ of NHS staff and greater emphasis on enabling staff to speak out; and there will be a requirement to submit and publish truthful data and information. Sanctions for those not complying may include a criminal liability.