NMA Opposes Health Service Investigations Secrecy Proposals

A proposed statutory ban on disclosing information linked to investigations into serious incidents in NHS hospitals would seriously dent public confidence in the health services, the News Media Association has warned.

In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week, the NMA warned that proposals in the draft Health Service Safety Investigation Bill would enable a number of organisations to apply blanket secrecy to information that underpins their investigations, removing it from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

The measures, which are at odds with the views of regulators and the majority of other stakeholders, would block patients from being able to request and access information related to themselves and their case when held in connection with investigations, the NMA said.

The NMA said: “National, regional and local newspapers play a vital role scrutinising the NHS on behalf of their readers. Information they obtain through FOI releases, whistleblower leaks, reporting on inquests and interviewing patients and families has shone a light on poor standards, malpractice, understaffing and underfunding.

“The NMA believes that the public, which depends on and funds the NHS, has a right to this information and we have campaigned hard over the years for greater transparency and stronger freedom of information laws.

“The Department’s plans are also at odds with regulators and the majority of other stakeholders on another point; the number of organisations that will be able to apply blanket secrecy to information that underpins their investigations. The draft Bill intends to extend this power not just to the HSSIB but to NHS trusts investigating each other and ultimately to NHS trusts investigating themselves.

“The potential for cover-ups and conflicts of interest arising from the NHS investigating itself is obvious, and can only be increased by making it impossible to verify the underlying evidence. 

“The accreditation requirement for trusts carrying out these investigations is unlikely to be sufficient to command public confidence – not in the aftermath of the Mid-Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay scandals.”

The Campaign for Freedom of Information doubts “whether any of the supposed benefits [of the “safe space”] will compensate for the shock people will experience at such an unwelcome development in the NHS,” the NMA added. 

“So do we, which is why we urge you to underpin the disclosure regime for these investigations with FOI and DPA principles that have been tried and tested across the whole public sector,” the NMA concluded.