The Medical Defence Union gave a cautious welcome to the draft Bill intended to give legal powers to the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). HSIB was established in April 2017 to investigate patient safety incidents and share learning across healthcare systems in England and the Bill will formally ensure its independence from the NHS as an arm’s-length body. After giving evidence today at the Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said:
“The stated role of HSIB is not to apportion blame but to address risks and improve systems and practices in the NHS. Unfortunately, our members’ experience is that investigations into incidents carried out by local NHS bodies are not conducted with the aim of improving practice, but too often are exercises in apportioning blame. This can be distressing and demoralising for doctors and it doesn’t help patients. However, the skilled staff at HSIB have introduced some much needed consistency and objectivity into the investigations they carry out and there are many NHS bodies that could learn from their example.
“It is now widely acknowledged that in the interests of patient safety, many healthcare organisations need to change. They need to be able to demonstrate that theirs is a just culture. We believe our members would be reassured if there was a ‘safe space’ in investigations carried out by HSIB so that information provided by staff would not be used, for example, to instigate disciplinary proceedings against them. Instead, the main purpose will be to understand what went wrong and promote learning rather than apportion blame.
“From what we have witnessed so far, the HSIB should help to improve an open learning culture within the NHS in England and we especially support the organisation’s remit to share best practice across organisations in the way investigations are led and carried out.”