A group of MPs and Lords have backed plans to make it easier for NHS staff to whistleblow on failings which lead to “avoidable deaths”.
If government proposals to create the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) are given the green light, NHS staff would be able to give evidence to the body confidentially when patient safety has been put at risk.
Each year, there are more than 12,000 avoidable hospital deaths in the NHS and 24,000 serious incidents.
Campaigners have rallied against the plans, arguing the “safe space” approach will leave families unable to find out what happened to their loved ones.
But in a report published on Thursday, the joint committee on the government’s Draft Health Service Safety Investigations bill said the body would not conceal any information, with HSSIB investigations set to be carried out alongside already established probes.
“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,” said committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin.
“Creating a legal ‘safe space’ where doctors, nurses and anyone else involved in the delivery of care can speak openly is crucial if the health system is to learn from its mistakes.”
Arguing that the aviation sector has already shown that “safe space” works, the Tory MP continued: “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.”
But the committee hit back against the suggestion that NHS trusts should be able to receive HSSIB accreditation to carry out safe space investigations into internal incidents, calling it “wholly misconceived”.
Only the HSSIB should be able to wield this power in order to avoid conflicts of interest, MPs and Lords said.
They also called on the government not to limit the HSSIB’s remit to NHS services – a demand echoed by the British Medical Association (BMA).
“We believe that private healthcare should be held to the same high standards as NHS services and included within the remit of the HSSIB,” said the BMA’s Dr Robert Harwood.
“High quality, safe patient care must be a priority regardless of whether it is being paid for by the state or the individual.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world and welcome the committee’s recognition of our efforts to do this through this landmark draft bill.
“We will now consider the recommendations carefully before responding in the autumn.”