The marketisation of the health service "has gone too far", two Church of England bishops have suggested, following the latest scandal.
The church leaders' comments come in the aftermath of massive failures in standards of care discovered at under-pressure Stafford General Hospital.
The Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Rev Geoffrey Annas, and the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, were responding to the findings of an inquiry into the death of 66-year-old Gillian Astbury in 2007.
Consideration is now being given to criminal charges after the deaths of hundreds of people at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Hospital.
Bishop Gledhill told the Church Times newspaper that the investigation into the hospital had been a "long and terrible time for the people of Stafford", especially relatives and friends of those who suffered and died unnecessarily.
The NHS was an important, reliable and beneficial service overall, and people should "not be afraid to go to their local hospital", the bishop stressed.
But averting to the source of many recent problems he expressed sympathy and support for NHS workers who have "borne the weight of cuts and reductions."
"We have now seen what many of us suspected -- that the marketisation of the health service has gone too far," he declared, calling for a return to the values that inspired the creation of the NHS in the first place, which included a highly significant Christian contribution, he suggested.
The Bishop of Stafford also expressed sympathy for all impacted by the "horrific" failings, saying that "their legacy and memorial must be an NHS that puts patients’ well-being before all other considerations."
He added: "There has been enormous soul-searching among staff at Stafford Hospital. I hope the future sees a return to patient-centred management that puts caring for people and enabling staff to raise concerns above administration."
Savitri Hensman, an associate of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which examines the impact of beliefs and values on public policy, commented: "Mid Staffs managers were under pressure to focus on achieving foundation status, in line with the latest policies of the previous government, and to cut costs, so the focus shifted away from attentiveness to patients, carers and frontline staff, some of whom tried in vain to flag up concerns about the impact of understaffing and other problems affecting quality and safety.
"This government too has embarked on major reorganisation, and finances are more tightly squeezed, with potentially deadly results," she said, adding: "The report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry raises important concerns for those who believe that justice and compassion should be at the heart of health and social care and other public services."
* 'Mid Staffordshire – change culture, don’t just scapegoat or restructure', by Savitri Hensman: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17957
* The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry report is available at: http://www.midstaffspublicinquiry.com/report