Submission on NHS secrecy to Joint Committee

A Joint Committee of MPs and peers has been set up to consider the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill. The bill establishes a new body called the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) to carry out investigations into safety concerns. It also makes provision for the HSSIB to accredit local NHS trusts to carry out their own investigations.

The Campaign is concerned by a prohibition on disclosure included in the draft bill. As it stands, the HSSIB and accredited NHS trusts would publish reports on their investigations into serious patient safety incidents. But they would be prohibited from making public any other information held in connection with the investigations. The prohibition would override the right of access under the Freedom of Information Act and – it is suggested – the subject access right under the Data Protection Act.

In a submission to the Committee, the Campaign says the reform would deprive the public of two important rights they have enjoyed for years.

The government says the prohibition is necessary to encourage staff to speak freely to safety investigators. But the Campaign says that information about the the identities of staff involved and the accounts they have given to inquiries is routinely withheld under FOI, with the support of the Information Commissioner. It points out that the proposed prohibition is not limited to information about identifiable staff or patients but includes any unpublished information much of which could not deter staff from coming forward such as details of policies and procedures, staffing problems, recruitment levels and financial difficulties.

Even fully anonymised information about safety incidents at other unrelated premises could not be revealed. The Campaign warns the prohibition will conceal information that would contribute to public understanding of safety problems in return for no real benefits.

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