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Written on 5th October 2023 by Susan Brown

The Health Services Safety Investigations Body or HSSIB has now taken over HSIB’s national investigations programme.

The newly established HSSIB began operating on 1st October 2023, replacing the former healthcare watchdog, HSIB, with a new, independent, statutory organisation which will investigate patient safety incidents using significantly enhanced powers.

Unlike HSIB, the new HSSIB’s ‘safe space’ investigation process makes it unsuitable for maternity safety investigations. Patient safety incidents involving maternal death, stillbirth, newborn (neonatal) death and severe brain injury to babies will now be investigated by the Maternity and Newborn Safety Investigations programme(MNSI).

What is the Health Services Safety Investigations Body?

The Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) was established by the Health and Care Act 2022  as the successor to HSIB, and took over the national investigations programme on 1st October 2023.

HSSIB will continue the work of HSIB’s national investigation programme which investigates and shares its learning from patient safety concerns across the healthcare system in order to help improve NHS care.  HSSIB’s approach to patient safety investigations will still be focussed on understanding the risks and causes of harm to patients and recommending improvements which can help improve patient safety at national and system level, rather than blaming individuals when things go wrong.

The Health and Care Act gave HSSIB enhanced powers to carry out its investigations. Some of these new powers are controversial and have been widely criticised as inappropriate for use in a healthcare system which is trying to rebuild patients’ trust after medical mistakes have led to serious harm.

The new watchdog can compel healthcare organisations and staff to cooperate with their investigations. Their investigators now have the right to enter hospital or other relevant premises, seize or inspect evidence, such as documents and equipment, that they believe to be relevant to the incident that they are investigating. However, HSSIB’s new powers also allow them to access the medical records of patients who have been harmed in patient safety incidents without having to wait for their consent.

Most controversially, HSSIB’s patient safety investigations will be carried out using ‘protected disclosure’, or ‘safe space’. This allows HSSIB to prevent all disclosure of information from the investigation, including statements or notes from interviews with healthcare staff or patients, even when the same incident forms the subject of a medical negligence claim, investigation by the PHSO or a coroner’s inquest. HSSIB believe that ‘safe space’ protection will mean that healthcare staff will be less fearful about speaking openly to HSSIB’s investigators about incidents in which patients were harmed. However, it is hard to see how further secrecy during the investigation process will ease the distrust felt by injured patients and their families who need a full, open and transparent explanation of what went wrong.

Meanwhile, it is accepted that safe space investigations are not appropriate for maternity safety investigations, which will now be carried out by MNSI.

If you or your partner or child have suffered severe injury as a result of medical negligence or have been contacted by HSSIB/MNSI you can talk to a solicitor, free and confidentially, for advice about how to respond or make a claimby contacting us.