The NHS “buried the truth” about poor patient care, says the head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

David Prior, chairman of the CQC, said that around 30 hospitals in England were delivering poor care, while around 10 to 20 were outstanding.

His assessment comes after the first round of hospital inspections, a scheme devised by the CQC in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal.

The new inspection regime has highlighted huge variations in the standards of care provided by hospitals.

“The difference between life and death”

Mr Prior said: “The one irrefutable finding from our first inspection reports is the extraordinary level of variation, and sometimes this can be a hospital an hour away from another hospital where the quality of care is just so radically different.

“It’s the difference between life and death at its most extreme.”

He added that variations in standards exist within hospitals too, as one department may be considerably better than the next.

“So you have a really good orthopaedic department and a very poor diabetes department. What the inspections show is it always comes down to leadership,” he added.

Mr Prior suggested that the truth about poor patient care had remained buried due to a wider cultural problem within the NHS.

“Too often in the NHS we’ve buried the truth deep, deep down because it’s just too difficult…There is a feeling that the truth is uncomfortable and that by revealing it you might erode public confidence in the NHS, and therefore it’s in the overall interest of the NHS to keep it unsaid.”

“Culture of control, fear and blame”

Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, agrees that a “culture of control, fear and blame” has prevented staff from voicing concerns about poor care.

Only time will tell if this culture of concealment – in which whistle-blowers are often penalised for their actions – can ever become an open and just environment committed to improving patient care.

Poor medical care

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