The scandal of hundreds of unnecessary deaths at an English health trust has prompted NHS Highland to ask whether something similar could happen in the north.
An inquiry found “serious failings” at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust – since disbanded – resulted in up to 1,200 deaths between 2005-08.
The case prompted the establishment of a special “whistleblowing” hotline for NHS staff wishing to raise concerns about care.
But health bosses at NHS Highland say staff believe it is a “safe” organisation, although there is acknowledgement that communication should be improved.
They also feel that reliance on finance and performance targets could undermine their work.
Clinical departments across the organisation were asked for their response to the Francis report on the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire scandal.
In the report, Dr Iain Kennedy, the chairman of NHS Highland’s area clinical forum, said: “There is a widespread recognition that any service under strain is prone to becoming less safe, or even actively unsafe.
“It was highlighted that any aspect of the patient experience that threatens the safety of patients should be highlighted and rectified as a matter of priority, ahead of other elective targets.”
Dr Kennedy added that staff were able to raise concerns, however some still perceived there to be a “blame culture”.
They also said that the organisation’s ability to learn from mistakes “could be further refined”.
Dr Kennedy said: “It is recognised that NHS Highland has a strong ethos of care, with highly dedicated staff. It was, however, highlighted that financial and performance-driven targets can have significant negative effects and that staff were feeling undermined by ‘target culture’ at times.
“Complaints received by NHS Highland reveal that there are ‘small compassion failures’ every day. These might be manifested in face-to-face interactions with patients, but also in a tolerance of systems which lead to poor patient experiences.”
He added that the factors leading to the failures at Mid Staffordshire were “unlikely to be unique” to that organisation.
He said: “As such, it was felt there is a significant risk that this could happen here (and in any similar organisation) and that there are a number of important preventative steps which should be taken.”