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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Health and Care Bill: lessons won't be learned 'behind closed doors'

Health and Care Bill: lessons won't be learned 'behind closed doors'


The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has shared concerns over 'wall of secrecy'

Campaigners have warned that the government’s proposed Health and Care Bill will create “a wall of secrecy”. 

The bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Commons, will apply in England only. 

Key aspects of the bill, include:
•    development of a new procurement regime for the NHS and public health procurement, informed by public consultation, aimed at the reduction of bureaucracy, and to reduce the need for competitive tendering “where it adds limited or no value”;
•    measures to “improve oversight and accountability” through new assurance and data sharing measures in social care, update the legal framework to enable person-centred models of hospital discharge, and introduce improved powers for the Secretary of State to directly make payments to adult social care providers where required;
•    new requirements about calorie labelling on food and drink packaging and the advertising of junk food before the 9pm watershed.
Commenting on the bill, adult brain injury partner and officer of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Suzanne Trask, said: “The plans include introduction of ‘safe-space investigations’ when patients come to harm, which means that information gathered as part of an investigation will not be allowed to be disclosed”. 

“When a patient is injured or killed it is vital that measures are taken to ensure it never happens to another patient. We cannot be certain that lessons are learned if information about what went wrong is kept behind closed doors”. 

Trask said the government’s aim of “finding out what has happened in patient safety incidents using proposed ‘safe-space investigations’” undermines its own principle of openness, despite the fact it has previously “committed to transparency, and it is evident that it recognises the significance of openness to injured patients and their relatives”. 

She added: “The government created a duty of candour so that healthcare professionals must tell patients or their relatives if something has gone wrong. A prohibition on disclosure of information from an ensuing investigation is in direct contradiction to this duty, which was introduced to create a more open and transparent health service”. 

Trask spoke of the need for ‘closure’ for patients and families: “People who have suffered in a patient safety incident need an explanation of what happened and why it happened. That’s often all a family needs, to help to start to put their lives back together after an avoidable injury or death. 
“It’s inevitable that families will have the feeling that something is being hidden. This will prevent patients and their families from being able to move on”.