‘Safe space’ for healthcare investigations backed by parliamentary committee

While MPs and lords agree the Draft Health Service Safety Investigation Bill will give healthcare professionals confidence when alerting authorities to safety issues, they warn that NHS trusts shouldn’t be accredited to carry out investigations.

Houses of Parliament, London

A joint committee of MPs and lords has backed government proposals to develop a ‘safe space’ approach to investigating incidents where the safety of patients has been compromised.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill was created specifically to scrutinise the bill that establishes a new Health Service Investigations Body (HSSIB), which will conduct investigations into patient safety incidents and address risk in NHS-commissioned services across England.

The HSSIB will take on the work of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which was introduced in April 2017 under the umbrella of NHS Improvement, but unlike the HSIB the new body will be completely independent from the NHS and have statutory powers of investigation.

One of the draft bill’s main proposals is to create a ‘safe space’ to protect information given to the HSSIB from disclosure. In a report — ‘The Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill: A new capability for investigating patient safety incidents’, published on 2 August 2018, the committee agreed that this would give greater confidence to healthcare professionals when alerting authorities to potential safety problems.

However, the committee raised concerns about proposals to accredit some NHS trusts to also undertake ‘safe space’ investigations and suggested they be dropped from the bill.

The committee said that this “represented too great a conflict of interest for the accredited trusts and would risk damaging confidence in the ‘safe space’ concept itself” and that only a fully independent body, such as HSSIB, should be afforded the powers and responsibility of ‘safe space’.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, said: “When serious incidents take place, patients have a right to find out what went wrong and staff need to feel that they can be open without being blamed or made a scapegoat.

“Poor quality investigations fail to address the concerns of patients, breed mistrust amongst health professionals, and do not help to make care safer — putting the HSSIB on a statutory footing to conduct independent safety investigations will help to address each of these concerns.”

Jenkin added that creating a legal ‘safe space’ where anyone involved in the delivery of care can speak openly is “crucial” if the health system is to learn from its mistakes and has been demonstrated in other safety critical industries, such as aviation.

“Far from restricting patients from finding out what happened to them, we believe that the ‘safe space’ will help HSSIB to establish facts and identify the underlying causes of the most serious incidents that take place each year,” he said.

The committee said its inquiry is “just the start of a parliamentary and public debate on this bill” and that it believed the bill would be improved further.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, 'Safe space' for healthcare investigations backed by parliamentary committee;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205270

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