These sizable pieces of NHS legislation are increasingly a hallmark of the new government's agenda. Given that this government's first year was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of the Health and Care Bill earlier this year came as little surprise.
While much of the Bill is focused on structural reforms and health and care integration, a particular section of the legislation stands out because of its medico-legal implications.
The Bill formally makes the Healthcare Safety Investigation's Branch (HSIB) a statutory, independent arm's length body, retitled as the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB). The MDU has been championing this move for a long time.
Why does this organisation matter?
The HSSIB will continue the work of its predecessor organisation, developing investigation models designed to improve learning from patient safety incidents. By making it a statutory body, the legislation will give it a much greater sense of permanence, enshrine its independence and elevate the status of its investigations.
The MDU believes in the power of a learning culture in healthcare. This is something that has to be constantly nurtured, and the HSSIB has a key role to play in that.
Why are we taking an interest in this Bill?
As it stands, we believe the legislation has one notable flaw.
For the HSSIB's investigations to yield the results we all want to see, with improvements identified in the interests of patient safety, healthcare professionals need to have confidence to engage with it, without fear or blame.
To that end, we are pleased that the government is building a so called 'safe-space' into the legislation. This would mean that any disclosures made to the HSSIB would be protected and non-disclosable.
However, as currently drafted, the legislation would allow for coroners to be exempt from the prohibition of disclosure of HSSIB material, meaning individual coroners could routinely request material from the HSSIB's investigations - naming individual doctors and other healthcare staff.
For the 'safe-space' to be as effective as possible, and with it, maximum chances for learnings and improvements to be identified, we believe coroners should be removed from the list of exemptions. We are calling on MPs to do just that and we have suggested an amendment to the Bill.
Read our briefing to MPs (PDF).
Do you agree with us? If so, you can email your MP and urge them to support the MDU campaign. If you don't know the contact details for your MP, you can find them here by entering your home postcode.
If you do contact your MP about the Bill, please let us know.