Health Service Safety Investigations Bill published

The government has launched its draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill despite strong concerns from AvMA and other patient safety groups that the legislation will prevent patients and families from finding out the truth about their treatment.

The draft bill creates the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) as an independent statutory body with legal powers to conduct investigations into patient safety incidents. However, the bill explicitly prohibits HSIB from disclosing information – even to patients or their families when the information is directly relevant to what happened in their treatment. We believe this is a serious infringement of patients’ rights which undermines the progress that has been made with the duty of candour and other initiatives to improve trust in NHS investigations and create an open and fair culture.

Even more concerning, the bill lays out the provision for this right to “safe space” to be extended to NHS Trusts, who would be accredited by HSIB to conduct investigations into other trusts, or even to investigate themselves.

AvMA’s chief executive Peter Walsh was a member of the Expert Advisory Group set up by the Department of Health to advise on HSIB and whose recommendations appear not to have been followed by the government.

“We have serious concerns about the parts of this bill which prohibit the disclosure even of information directly relevant to patients’ treatment to the patient/family concerned.” he said. “This is completely at odds with the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Group and the spirit of the duty of candour and NHS Constitution.

“This is so even if it were only to apply to the new HSIB. However, the Bill allows for extending this so called ‘safe space’ to local investigations – including trusts investigating themselves. We believe this would be against the letter as well as the spirit of the duty of candour and must not be allowed.

“Whilst we welcome the provisions for powers and independence for the HSIB, of which we are supportive, these affronts to patients’ rights would destroy public confidence in HSIB and NHS investigations and undermine recent advances made in openness, transparency and a just culture.”

AvMA will continue to campaign against the “safe space” and to highlight the need to protect patients’ rights.