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Queen’s Speech announces Bill for Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) to become arm’s-length body

On 14 October, the Queen announced: “new laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s long-term plan in England and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents.”

The HSIB was established on 1 April 2017 in order to improve safety through effective and independent investigations that do not apportion blame or liability. This normally takes the form of making recommendations to improve faults in systems and processes that may have contributed to harm.

The proposed new body– the Health Service Safety Investigation Body (HSSIB) – intends to continue the culture of the HSIB by focusing on “transparency and openness, reassuring patients, families and NHS staff that every effort will be made to prevent the same mistakes happening again.”

The foreword to the Bill suggests that around 150 deaths in the NHS each week can be avoided if problems in care were to be eradicated. The Government’s supporting materials identify a need for the Bill as “there is a culture within many parts of the NHS which deters staff from raising serious and sensitive concerns”.

Being both independent of the NHS and at arm’s length from the Government, the new body will be able to employ new powers to discharge its investigative functions fully and effectively.

The HSSIB legal powers fact sheet issued in support of the Bill sets out that the HSSIB will be able to “require any organisation which provides NHS-commissioned care in England to provide information, documents, equipment or other items relevant to an investigation.”

Investigators will also have “powers of entry and inspection in order to access premises and material relevant to an investigation” – which are likened to the improvements made in aviation safety through the Air Accident Investigations Branch.

Keith Conradi, HSIB Chief Investigator, said: “This announcement marks the start of a significant change to our organisation that will result in us becoming an independent statutory body with significant legal powers.

“The… HSSIB will run in ‘shadow’ form for about a year and should commence operations by autumn 2021.”

This news comes days after former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who proposed the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill in 2017) launched a new charity, Patient Safety Watch, to monitor patient safety using data methodologies. Hunt will be the charity’s chairman.

Full details of the proposed Bill are available on the Department of Health and Social Care website.

If you would like any advice around your organisation’s investigative processes and governance surrounding clinical incidents, please do get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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