NHS safety investigation body must be independent, say MPs

Nurses need truly 'safe spaces' to speak openly about patient risk

A move to create a ‘safe space’ for nurses to speak out about risks to patient safety will only succeed if the body in charge is truly independent from government.

This is the view of MPs on the Commons public administration committee which has been looking into the creation of a new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch.

It is due to begin work in the autumn, using its budget of £3.6 million to carry out around 30 reviews a year into how complaints against the NHS are handled.

The committee also believes a single public inquiry should be held to consider which historic cases of avoidable harm should be re-opened to provide closure to patients and their families.

Giving evidence to the committee the Department of Health (DH) insisted it was already introducing measures designed to improve the quality of complaints investigations.

These include viewing whistleblowers as an asset and strengthening Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance on giving credit to nurses who admit failings early during fitness to practise hearings.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, called for legislation to make the new branch fully independent, and to create a credible ‘safe space’ which will ‘enable the NHS to properly learn from past mistakes'.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘We agree that the independence of the branch will be essential to its success, which is why we made explicit legal provisions for its independence when we set it up.’

Further information:

Quality of NHS complaints investigations report