Minister in warning over patient safety incidents legislation

Health minister Stephen Donnelly said he does not want to create a culture in the health service where people are “too afraid” to disclose serious patient safety incidents.

Mr Donnelly warned that new legislation that will require the mandatory open disclosure of serious patient safety incidents must not create a culture of fear among staff.

The Patient Safety Bill sets out a list of patient safety incidents which must be reported to the health watchdog, Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

Mr Donnelly told the Oireachtas health committee that the “overarching intention” of the Bill is to embed and support a culture of open disclosure.

“This Bill provides for mandatory open disclosure of serious patient safety,” Mr Donnelly added.

“It provides for the notification of these reportable incidents to the relevant regulator and it extends the remit of HIQA to private hospitals.

“It also contains provisions supporting clinical audit in the health service.

“This Bill will lead to a safer better health service by placing patients and their needs front and centre.”

He added: “The overarching intention of this Bill is to embed and support a culture of open disclosure.

“It’s also fair to say that many aspects of the Bill have been informed by the learnings from cervical check.

“In particular, the need to ensure accountability by service providers and clinicians in carrying out open disclosure to patients and families.

“I, together with my department and the national screening services, have given a lot of consideration to these learnings and the work of the expert reference group on integral cancers.”

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Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane raised concerns about who is mandated to raise the specified incidents.

Nobody should have any fear about coming forward in relation to their job, or their standing in the health services

David Cullinane

He proposed an amendment to the Bill that would mandate any person employed in the health service to report an incident, which would broaden the scope of who is legally obliged to make a report.

“I think it’s really important that we get this right. I think it’s really important that any individual that has a sense that something is wrong and works in the healthcare service should be mandated to come forward,” Mr Cullinane added.

“I’ve spoken to a number of advocate groups in relation to this, we don’t want a situation where there is over-reporting and I think there’s a balance to be struck on it, and I do appreciate that.

“But, at the same time, I think we can put safeguards in place to protect the rights of healthcare staff who may well come forward, which is why the amendment allows for people to report the incident to HIQA, for example, as an alternative and as an added protection.

“Nobody should have any fear about coming forward in relation to their job, or their standing in the health services.”

However, Mr Donnelly warned about the effects or over-reporting if every staff member if legally bound to report an incident.

He added that there must be a right balance around accountability, but that it does not “come at the cost of creating a culture where people are afraid to step forward and admit that when things have gone wrong”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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