The safety of hospital patients would be compromised by new laws that could cause investigations into serious NHS failings to be kept largely secret, campaigners have warned MPs.
Information including problems caused by procedural errors or staffing shortages may not be disclosed if the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill is approved.
It would mean potential causes of health scandals, unnecessary deaths, breaches of safety, systemic hospital failings or even cases of criminality within the NHS may go unrevealed, the Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFI) warned.
The concerns about the new bill were raised as questions continue to be asked about how the Gosport War Memorial Hospital scandal was allowed to happen. A public inquiry this week found up to 650 patients at the Hampshire infirmary had their lives shortened after being prescribed powerful opiate painkillers, many while under the care of Dr Jane Barton.
Speaking to The Independent, Maurice Frankel, director of CFI, said: “This new bill would effectively hide information that patients and the public have a right to know. And one thing we do know is that when transparency is reduced, safety standards fall. It makes a tragedy like Gosport wholly more likely.”
He spoke out after the group gave evidence to a parliamentary joint select committee considering the bill.
If approved, the legislation would prohibit bodies investigating NHS failings from revealing any information other than that included in an official report, effectively burying anything that an investigator decided not to include in a final document.
Questions have been raised about how much detail may be included in a final report if contributors knew information left out would not come to light.
“The prohibition would mean that where a published report failed to properly answer a relevant question, is flawed by poor investigation, lack of frankness, self-interest on the part of an accredited trust investigating itself or is excessively delayed, it would be impossible for the public to look at any underlying information,” CFI told the committee in written evidence.
Mr Frankel said he believed the bill would reduce accountability and make future failings more likely.
The Department of Health said the new legislation was vital to encourage staff, where something had gone wrong, to speak to investigators without fear their evidence would be made public or they themselves might be blamed for any failings.
A spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving patient safety in the NHS and supporting staff to speak up is a vital part of that.
“It’s clear from incident investigations in aviation and rail sectors that staff are more encouraged to speak up about concerns in a safe space. We have set this out in our evidence to the Joint Committee and look forward to its report in the coming weeks.”