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04.04.16

New Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch must be independent

The independence of the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) needs to be enshrined in law, the head of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has said.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP announced the creation of the HSIB at last month’s Global Patient Safety Summit, along with a range of other measures including independent reviews into all deaths from April 2018.

The government set up an expert advisory group to establish the HSIB following recommendations in a report by the PACAC last year, which said that around 30,000 serious incidents occur every year and are not adequately investigated by NHS trusts.

Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the PACAC, said:  “Following Francis on Mid-Staffs, the Morecombe Bay inquiries, dissatisfaction with PHSO’s NHS investigation role, and the rest, HSIB will prove to be the biggest single step this government will make to change the culture of the NHS.”

However, Jenkin warned that the HSIB, modelled on the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport, is only the first step in improving patient safety.

He said that the government need to introduce legislation to ensure the HSIB is fully independent and not domiciled with the newly formed NHS Improvement in case it has to include it in investigations, and that it can provide a 'safe space' in which patients, patients' families, clinicians and NHS managers can speak freely.

If such legislation is not included in the Queen’s Speech in May, the PACAC will recall Jeremy Hunt to give evidence.

The PACAC is also holding a follow-up inquiry into the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s response to its report.

The first chief investigator of the HSIB is expected to be in place by the summer.

(Image c. Peter Byrne)

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