Healthcare Secrecy Plans Criticised

Plans to shroud healthcare investigations in secrecy have been criticised by bodies including the News Media Association and Campaign for Freedom of Information.

Proposals from the Nursing and Midwifery Council to avoid public misconduct hearings for nurses and midwives are part of a “pattern of moves to limit the public’s right to know about NHS safety problems”, the Campaign for Freedom of Information said yesterday.

The Mail in Cumbria has been fighting a legal battle to get the NMC to publish a review into whether it should have suspended a Furness General Hospital midwife following the death of two infants.

The CFOI said “the same philosophy” of secrecy applied to Department of Health proposals in the draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill for a new body to investigate significant NHS safety incidents which would be prohibited from revealing unpublished information in response to Freedom of Information requests. 

The NMA wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last year voicing concerns that proposals in the Bill would enable a number of organisations to apply blanket secrecy to information that underpins their investigations.

“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 NMA said.

“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.”

CFOI director Maurice Frankel said yesterday: “The secrecy would not be limited to information provided by staff involved in safety incidents. It would apply to any information from any source obtained during an investigation, including information from the NHS trust itself, independent experts or a drug or medical device manufacturer.

“Even test results on equipment or anonymised accounts of previous incidents would be kept secret indefinitely.”