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The Government has stated the main objectives of the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill [HL] 2019–20 are to:

  • establish the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) as a new independent arm’s-length body with powers to conduct investigations into patient safety incidents that occur during the provision of NHS-funded services;
  • create a ‘safe space’ whereby participants can provide information to the HSSIB safe in the knowledge the information will not be shared with others, and only disclosed under certain limited circumstances as set out in legislation; and
  • amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to allow for NHS bodies, rather than local authorities, to appoint medical examiners; and place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure the system is properly maintained.

The HSSIB would take over the duties of the current non-statutory Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which was set up on 1 April 2017. It would effectively put this body on a statutory footing, giving it full independence and statutory powers. However, the Government has stated that the maternity investigations programme currently led by the investigation branch will not be included in the bill. Concerns about this aspect of the body’s duties were raised by the joint committee set up to consider a draft bill published in September 2017. Although the Government initially rejected the committee’s concerns, it has now indicated that the maternity investigations will not transfer to the statutory body upon its establishment.

The medical examiners system began operation in April 2019 with the focus of ensuring all deaths are independently scrutinised. The bill would seek to put the system on a statutory footing. This provision was not included in draft bill.

As healthcare is a devolved matter, the main principles of the bill apply to England only. However, the bill does allow the HSSIB to enter into agreements to run investigations into incidents occurring during the provision of NHS services in Wales or Northern Ireland.

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