Editorial: Sir David Nicholson should fall on his sword

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With new revelations about contaminated food and Michael Gove's U-turn on GCSEs, the defining event of this week – the report by Robert Francis QC on the scandalous failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust – risks slipping from the public eye. That must not happen. The conclusions must be heeded and the recommendations acted upon. David Cameron's announcement of a new chief inspector of the NHS and the investigations of five more hospital trusts can be only a start.

Mr Francis's decision not to hold individuals to account was of a piece with his central finding that a whole culture was to blame. That does not mean, however, that individuals – from top to bottom of the NHS – are not culpable. Rather, it places the onus on them to recognise that, by remaining in their posts, they will be seen – rightly or wrongly – as a block on change. Starting with Sir David Nicholson, now chief executive of the NHS, who was a regional official with oversight of Staffordshire in 2005.

Mr Cameron's expressions of confidence notwithstanding, nothing would demonstrate Sir David's loyalty to the NHS more, in present circumstances, than his departure. His role at Mid Staffs and subsequent promotion send quite the wrong message about what it takes to lead the NHS. He should draw the appropriate conclusion.

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