Examination of Witness

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 9th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Sir Robert Francis:

What I am about to say in answer to your question is my personal view. Healthwatch England, for reasons you will understand, does not have a view on that—apart from welcoming the existence of this body and the fact it has a statutory function. I confess to some concern about the safe place provisions, and I said this in part to a parliamentary Committee before. On the one hand, I fully endorse the need to protect people who come forward to give information—sometimes potentially damaging to themselves—so we can learn the relevant lessons of safety. Therefore, I absolutely support the idea that anything said in these circumstances cannot of itself be used to prosecute or discipline them, or indeed be used in civil proceedings.

On that point, as a lawyer, I would be very hesitant on the advice I would give to someone on the basis of the Bill as it stands, because there is no certainty that what goes into the safe space stays there. It is all a matter of discretion, albeit a High Court judge’s discretion or sometimes a coroner’s discretion. That would have to be worked out. It is probably difficult to reinforce more, but if it could be it should be.

However, I think that is different from denying bereaved families and victims of an incident, if they are still alive, knowledge of what has been said to the investigation board. At the very minimum, I would like to see there be discretion to share that information with families. I can see there may be circumstances in which that is not possible, and I can see that it might be necessary for there to be quite stringent conditions around what they personally can do with the information they are given. What worries me about the position at the moment is that it starts from a presumption of dividing the staff from the patient from the families, and you get straight into, I presume, an adversarial situation. That is not necessary the case, and if we work the system and the learning culture properly, everyone will be trying to contribute to learning rather than blaming each other. You are not going to get that if you are denying one half of the incident the information that the other half has.