Four former health secretaries have said Sir David Nicholson should not lose his job as NHS chief executive in the wake of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and other alleged care and management failings.

Sir David has faced sustained calls for his resignation or sacking in recent weeks, following the publication of the Francis inquiry into the scandal at Mid Staffs. They have come from relatives of patients of Mid Staffs, other patient safety campaigners, politicians, and last week from The Times newspaper.

He has so far received the backing of the prime minister and health secretary, but the government is likely to be worried about the growing pressure.

He was due to appear before the Commons health committee this morning.

Four former health secretaries - all Labour and two of whom worked with Sir David in the role - today told the Independent newspaper they believed Sir David should stay.

Patricia Hewitt said: “I have been appalled by the campaign against David Nicholson and I think it is grossly unfair.

“If you have lost a family member in such distressing circumstances of course you are going to look for someone to at the top of the organisation to be held responsible.

“But the Francis report makes clear the Stafford happened because of a shocking lack of clinical and managerial governance for which the board of the hospital was responsible. David Nicholson is not.”

Alan Milburn said he thought blaming senior manangers was easier than confronting the failure of doctors and nurses. He said: “No one individual was to blame everyone was to blame.

“That was the conclusion of the Francis Report. The much reviled managers are in the firing line but I am afraid if you read the report carefully it is the much lauded nurses and doctors who were equally to blame.

“What you had at Stafford was a system of meltdown and it’s frankly farcical that any one individual should somehow shoulder the blame for that.”

Alan Johnson said he believed Sir David was “was part of the solution to raising quality in the NHS rather than the problem”.

And Andy Burnham, currently shadow health secretary, said: “The prime minister has said what he wants to say on David Nicholson and I think he is right.

“Everyone has got to look at the Francis Report, absorb its findings and take appropriate action and I think everyone has got lessons to learn.

“As far as I could see the report didn’t say that anybody knowingly ignored warnings.”

The pros and cons of losing David Nicholson