DH publishes response to 'safe space'

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The Department of Health (DH) has published a response to the providing a 'safe space' in healthcare safety investigations consultation.

Key points

The response outlines feedback received and next steps:

  • The new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) is expected (from 1 April 2017) to conduct investigations using the safe space principles set out in the NHS Trust Development Authority (Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch) Directions 2016.
  • In the absence of legislation, the DH is currently unable to subject disclosure of material under HSIB investigations to a general prohibition. The government remains open to considering the option of legislation in the future.
  • Only when 'safe space' has been tested and works effectively at a national level, will the DH consider extending 'safe space' to investigations undertaken by on behalf of commissioners and providers of NHS funded services. The DH has outlined three conditions for extension, one of which would be going out to further consultation.
The HSIB is expected to publish principles for its investigations shortly. We will advise employers as soon as these are available.

Download the response

You can download the response and read our full employer informed response (January 2017). 


In Learning not Blaming, the government's response to Freedom to Speak Up, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) report, and Morecambe Bay investigation, the government accepted the PASC recommendation to establish a new independent patient safety investigation branch to conduct healthcare safety investigations in the NHS. The HSIB, fully operational from 1 April 2017 is responsible for carrying out investigations and providing advice and guidance to NHS organisations in relation to investigations. 

The DH consultation (October 2016) outlined a proposal to legally make sure information provided by staff as part of a health service investigation is kept confidential, except in limited circumstances, i.e. where there is an immediate risk to patient safety, or where the High Court makes an order permitting disclosure. The proposal aims to reassure staff that the information they provide will not be passed on, while assuring patients and families that they will be given full facts about their care.

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