New report proposes extending NHS safety investigation secrecy

A new parliamentary report has been criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and News Media Association for endorsing a proposal that will prevent a new NHS patient safety body from disclosing safety information under the Freedom of Information Act.

A draft government bill to establish the Health Service Investigations Body would also prevent it from disclosing information it holds in connection with any patient safety investigation. The parliamentary committee recommends extending this restriction to any information provided in order to promote patient safety, regardless of whether it relates to an investigation.

Maurice Frankel, the Campaign’s director said: “The new body will operate on the bizarre assumption that patient safety is best secured by secrecy. Only its published report will be available, everything else will be protected from disclosure under FOI including hospital procedures, statistics, details of staffing problems or anonymised reports of incidents in other countries.

Investigators would not even be allowed to put one person’s account of an accident to another witness anonymously to ask if they agree. The joint committee now proposes making all background safety information supplied to the new body secret too. If the safety body gets something wrong, it will be protected from scrutiny by this disproportionate indiscriminate restriction.”

The News Media Association warned the secrecy proposals would damage public confidence in the healthcare system: “The blanket ban on the release of information provided to the HSSIB will undermine public confidence and patient safety, not improve it. The public and other stakeholders will not be able to assess the rigor of the investigation, the propriety of the recommendations, or whether improvements are being made if they do not have access to the information on which the recommendations are based.”

However the committee also recommends that a proposal allowing certain NHS trusts to carry out safety investigations subject to the same secrecy provision should be dropped, a move which the Campaign welcomes.

The Campaign’s detailed submission to the committee is available here.

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