New NHS whistleblowing body must be fully independent, MPs warn

A new NHS whistleblowing service to prevent patient harm needs to be fully independent, MPs have warned.

Plans to establish a Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) to investigate cases of compromised patient safety have been supported by a joint Lords and Commons committee.

But proposals to allow the HSSIB to accredit NHS trusts and foundation trusts to conduct internal investigations should be dumped, said committee chairman and backbench Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin.

In his report, Sir Bernard said: “The committee considers this idea to be wholly misconceived.

“It represents too great a conflict of interest for the accredited trusts, compromises HSSIB’s independence from the system it is investigating and would risk damaging confidence in the ‘safe space’ concept itself.

“To win the confidence of patients, healthcare practitioners and other bodies with responsibility for patient safety, HSSIB had to be, and be seen to be, independent of existing healthcare structures, including the Department of Health and Social Care.”

With an estimated 12,000 avoidable hospital deaths every year, the committee said change is clearly needed for the benefit of patients and staff.

Previous major public inquiries revealed a system “slow to detect and learn” and, in some cases, “designed to protect clinical staff and hospitals rather than discover the truth”, cautioned the report.

Committee members said creating a safe space within the HSSIB was “crucial” to changing this, so the body will operate on a closed doors model and make recommendations for the whole NHS and not just the incident under investigation.

The report said: “When serious incidents take place patients have a right to find out what went wrong and staff need to feel that they can be open without being blamed or made a scapegoat.

“Far from restricting patients from finding out what happened to them, we believe that the ‘safe space’ will help HSSIB to establish facts and identify the underlying causes of the most serious incidents that take place each year.

“The experience of other safety-critical industries such as aviation has shown that ‘safe space’ works.”

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