Brian Cavanagh, former chair of NHS Lothian, said non-executive members of NHS boards needed to do more to challenge the performance of their organisations.
He said that issues such as the manipulation of NHS waiting time figures in Scotland and the scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust in England could have been avoided with more rigorous focus on performance.
His comments came after the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh last week warned that the NHS had “lost focus” and any hospital – including in Scotland – could encounter the same problems as those in Mid-Staffordshire, where an inquiry found the safety of sick and dying patients was “routinely neglected” resulting in hundreds of needless deaths.
The NHS in Scotland has come in for heavy criticism over its treatment waiting lists, with some boards – including NHS Lothian – accused of manipulating their figures to meet Scottish Government targets.
Mr Cavanagh, who now runs his own consultancy business, said: “As someone who has spent ten years as a non-executive and chair of the second biggest board in Scotland I watched the Mid Staffs issues with horror.
“I think Mid Staffs is a wake-up call for all of us who are involved in governance.”
Mr Cavanagh said while the Scottish and English health systems were very different, there were issues raised in Mid Staffs that were of relevance here.
He said lay, non-executive board members were there to question procedures.
He added: “The big challenge for non-executives is combining the big picture of guiding and directing the board without getting into the operational detail of running the business. “But often it is through that operational understanding that non-executives are able to ask the critical questions about effectiveness, risk and quality.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The standards of care highlighted by the Francis Inquiry [into Mid Staffs] were completely unacceptable, and no patient should receive poor levels of care when they go into hospital. We are considering the recommendations in detail, to identify how the lessons learned could be relevant for the NHS in Scotland.”