Proposals in Queen’s Speech for Patient Safety and Protection
The much awaited Queen’s Speech of 21 June 2017 has introduced the Government’s plan for a Patient Safety Bill.
A number of measures are proposed. All carry the general theme of putting patient safety first, with an emphasis on creating a culture of learning and communication of potential safety improvements.
The Government’s plan under the Bill is to set up a safety investigation body, namely the Health Service Safety Investigation Body (HSSIB). Systems of reporting and safety assessment already exist within the NHS, but this body will stand independently and be given statutory powers to conduct its investigations.
Medical staff will be encouraged to provide information about their concerns to the HSSIB. To encourage staff to be candid with their reports, there will be a prohibition (ban) on disclosure to any third party of information held by the HSSIB in connection with their investigations. This means that reports made by staff will always remain confidential. This is described as providing a safe environment for staff to make such reports.
The prohibition on disclosure is an aspect that will carry slight concerns. At the very least, that term has been associated in the past with a feeling of cover-up. That said, the draft Bill is reported to make an exception to this prohibition in circumstances where there is an ongoing risk to the safety of patients or evidence of criminal activity. If such situations exist, the HSSIB will inform the relevant regulator or the Police. Looking to the future, arguments may arise over what should and should not be disclosed. Arguments as to the need for disclosure, some involving Court applications, may well occur.
The proposals in the Bill will reflect the Government’s intention to move inquiries about patient safety to a statutory body and away from lawyer-led investigations which are perceived as an expensive way of doing things.
An Improved Culture?
One of the stated benefits of the Bill will be to help create a culture of learning and safety improvement across the NHS - with any lessons being shared across the system. It is hoped that the introduction of such measures will improve safety and patient confidence.
The Government is certainly not short of measures to try to improve safety. A recent addition to the family includes ‘NHS Improvement’, a body charged with centralising and communicating improvement measures across the NHS.
As with all these things, much of the success will come down to individuals. From the particular individuals who have responsibility for providing the care in the first place, to staff being sufficiently motivated to report their concerns and to the effectiveness of the staff working in the new HSSIB.
Proof of the Pudding
The Bill has yet to be published in a detailed form, but the Government’s stated aim and objective in improving the method of investigation and culture of reporting can only be good. Hopefully the HSSIB will be sufficiently robust to effect change as it follows two strategies:
- To investigate issues fearlessly and in secret; and
- To persuade medical professionals across the board to share best practice and to discuss their mistakes in an open and honest way.
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