NHS 'was too powerful to criticise'
The National Health Service "became too powerful to criticise" with even the most senior staff afraid of speaking out despite millions of patients receiving a "wholly unsatisfactory" service from GPs and hospitals, the official regulator has said.
David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission, warned that the service's perceived status as a " national religion" fuelled the problem and had left some areas of care "out of control" because honesty about failings was not tolerated.
The former Conservative Party chief executive also branded Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt "crazy" for telephoning round hospital chief executives who had missed A&E targets.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph he said: " 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."
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.
"Their opening times have to be geared around the patients," he told the newspaper. "It's no surprise that Sainsbury and Tesco do most of their business outside office hours because that's when people can get to shop. Working people need to be able to see their GP in the evening or at the weekend."
Mr Prior told The Daily Telegraph 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."
"When you are compared to a national religion, that is the problem," he said in reference to a description of the NHS by Lord Lawson.
He added: "I think targets can be distortive. Every time a patient arrives [in A&E] the clock starts ticking and not a lot happens. At three hours people start to get interested - and at three hours 55 minutes the chief executive is down in the A&E department. That doesn't make any sense."
Mr Prior raised concerns about the Health Secretary's decision to call th e heads of NHS trusts missing A&E targets within hours of them being published, the newspaper said.
"There is an obsession. It's crazy to have a Secretary of State doing that. 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."