Possible increased powers for the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch
HSIB may soon be a statutory body, independent of both the DHSC, NHS England and NHS Improvement
Comments made by Nadine Dorries, appointed by Boris Johnson to the Department of Health and Social Care at the end of July, suggest that the Queen’s Speech planned for next month will include draft legislation which will make HSIB independent of both the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and NHS Improvement as well as making it a statutory body.
HSIB, set up by former Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and operational since April 2017, was set up to be similar to rail and air accident investigation bodies, charged specifically, under the leadership of chief investigator Keith Conradi, with improving safety by investigating and determining the causes of incidents within the NHS, without specifically attaching blame either to individuals or organisations. It is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care and hosted by NHS England and NHS Improvement, but operates independently, as it does from the CQC.
The minister was speaking at a conference on the World Health Organisation’s global patient safety day and indicated that she had been working on the necessary legislation since her appointment. Originally included in the Conservative manifesto at the 2017 general election, but reduced to a draft after the Government lost its majority, it is understood that the new draft bill would give HSIB powers of entry to seize equipment, documents and information related to an incident, with the ability to levy financial penalties up to £20,000 for uncooperative organisations or staff.
The minister’s comments were welcomed by Mr Conradi, who stated that HSIB needs to be put on to a statutory basis and to have the additional powers which are proposed. It remains to be seen of course whether the bill does, in fact, make it into the Queen’s Speech and its content will inevitably be the subject of close scrutiny. Labour has indicated in the past that it would seek to amend such legislation in order to require the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to resume its work on safe staffing, which was suspended in 2015.
Whilst all healthcare providers will support any initiative designed to improve patient safety, the proposed sanctions for “non-compliance” may be a concern. It’s clear healthcare providers will need to ensure all staff are aware of the powers held by HSIB and potential sanctions they or the organisation might face and to put in place adequate support and resources to enable staff to respond to any requests they might receive from HSIB in the course of an investigation.