‘Safe space’ in healthcare safety investigations

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In April 2017 the Department of Health dropped controversial plans to impose ‘safe space’ provisions on local investigations following strong concerns expressed by AvMA and other stakeholders in response to its consultation held in 2016.

The consultation had proposed extending arrangements in place for the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch to withhold information from patients and families – even when it directly relates to what happened in their treatment – to all NHS safety investigations. This would have meant that local NHS trusts investigating their own serious incidents would be able to withhold relevant information from patients and families if they believed this was important for providing a ‘safe space’ for health professionals, so that they could provide evidence without fear of blame or serious consequences.

While we fully support initiatives to protect all staff including whistleblowers from inappropriate blame or repercussions, allowing the covering up of the full truth about what happens in patients’ treatment from them or their family is in direct contradiction to the NHS constitution and the statutory duty of candour.

AvMA remains concerned that the ‘safe space’ approach will still be applied in investigations conducted by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), and that the department is still considering extending this to local investigations in the future subject to various conditions.

In the queen’s speech the Government’s plan to introduce a Patient Safety Bill was announced, which as well as providing the statutory framework for HSIB, would create the so-called ‘safe space’, or as the explanation describes it, a ‘prohibition’ on the disclosure of information.

The ‘safe space’ as currently envisaged is in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the Expert Group convened by the Department of Health to advise it on HSIB. It recommended that any information relevant to what happened in a patients treatment ‘must’ be shared with the patient/their family.

We will continue to campaign for a change in the HSIB statutory directions / influence the Patient Safety Bill, and a withdraw of the threat to impose this measure on local investigations.