The National Health Service (NHS) has, for over four decades, been beset with numerous 'scandals' relating to poor patient care across several diverse clinical contexts. Ensuing inquiries proceed as though each scandal is unique, with recommendations highlighting the need for more staff training, a change of culture within the NHS based upon a 'duty of candour', and proposed criminal sanctions for employees believed to breach good patient care. However, mistakes reoccur and failings in patient safety continue. While inquiries describe what went awry in each case, questions of how and why such failures came to be remain unanswered. Psychology has a role in answering these questions. Applying psychological theory can guide an understanding of the causes that lead to catastrophic failures in healthcare settings. Indeed, what is often neglected in inquiries is the role of human behaviour in contributing to these failures. Drawing upon behavioural, social and cognitive theories, a psychological analysis of key factors, typically present in clinical contexts where serious failures of care occur, is presented. Applying theory and models from the field of psychology can guide further understanding of the precipitants to poor care.