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Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will fail without legislation, say MPs

2 June 2016

The new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) will only succeed if the Government legislates to guarantee its independence and ensure that it provides a genuine 'safe space' for people to speak out about patient safety risks, says the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in their follow-up report to a recent PHSO review of NHS complaints investigations.

Report summary

The Committee's report welcomes the creation of HSIB as a critical step towards improving how the NHS in England investigates patient safety incidents. But for it to succeed the Government must bring forward primary legislation making it fully independent from the NHS and securing a statutory 'safe space' in which medical professionals, patients, their families and carers, can speak candidly about the most serious risks to patient safety, in a 'no blame' environment.

HSIB must also take full responsibility for setting national investigations standards and providing appropriate accreditation and training for local investigators.

Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch

HSIB will carry out around 30 investigations a year into the most serious risks to patient safety across the NHS in England. The Government agreed to set HSIB up based on a recommendation made by PACAC's predecessor committee, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in its March 2015 report, Investigating Clinical Incidents in the NHS.

The Committee's report also calls for a single public inquiry into historic cases of avoidable harm in the NHS, to consider which cases should be re-opened and to provide closure to patients and families. Its conclusions fit closely with those of the independent HSIB Expert Advisory Group, which made its final report on 12 May, to which the Government has now responded.

Chair's comments

Chairman of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP, said:

"We have consistently called for primary legislation to make HSIB fully independent, and to create a credible 'safe space' which will enable the NHS to properly learn from past mistakes. Since we approved this report, it is increasingly evident that the Government has accepted this recommendation.

The Secretary of State's decision to set HSIB up as an NHS quango as a permanent response to our recommendations was both disappointing and would be unacceptable, but the prospect of a secure legislative base will enable HSIB emulate the successful air, marine and rail investigation branches.

Were the present non-statutory arrangement to be regarded as permanent it would be an intolerable compromise, disregarding consensus between healthcare experts and Parliament, and would put political dogma against forming new public bodies before patient safety. We therefore look forward to the draft legislation emerging."

Further information

Image: PA