Health Foundation chief executive Stephen Thornton has urged health secretary Andrew Lansley to put patient safety “centre stage” and to “cull [NHS] quangos with care”.

Speaking at HSJ and Nursing Times’ patient safety congress last week, Mr Thornton said it would be a “retrograde step” if core organisations such as the NHS Institute and National Patient Safety Agency were “scattered to the four winds” when reducing the number of quangos.

“In what will be a vicious round of musical chairs for quangos and NHS management bodies in the next 12 or 18 months, beware of the unintended consequence of losing the scarce resource that has been painstakingly built up over the last decade,” he said.

He added that the new coalition government needs to keep its eye “firmly on the evidence” when considering service reconfiguration and not “jump on the patient safety bandwagon”.

“Inevitably there will be strong clinical voices masking vested interest with cries of potential damage to patient safety, especially where change requires radical change to professional roles and status.

“But there will also be managers using safety fears as a cloak for changes driven solely by the need to save cash,” he said.

Department of Health national clinical director for improvement and efficiency Jim Easton said the NHS could save between £300m and £500m a year by reducing harm, and that boards have a “fundamental role” to play in this.

“As a board you need to evaluate where you should spend your money to get the best return on safety. You need to show people how you can afford to do this and there are tools coming [to help with this],” he said.

  • HSJ is holding a conference on Measuring and Improving the Patient Experience in London on 29 to 30 June. For details visit