Ministers could suppress the publication of controversial healthcare investigations, under powers outlined in new legislation, nursing unions have warned.
The Health and Social Care Bill, which had its second reading in the Commons last week, includes provision for the health secretary to censor inquiries carried out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the super-regulator that is due to replace the Healthcare Commission.
Inquiry reports will be published, unless the health secretary considers there to be ‘exceptional circumstances which make publication inappropriate’, the legislation states, adding that ‘publication is to be in such manner as the secretary of state considers appropriate’.
It also allows for the health secretary to call for the investigation itself to be held in private. Both Unison and the RCN criticised the proposals last week in briefings to MPs, saying it did not encourage a culture of openness.
‘This is a bad idea,’ RCN policy adviser Tim Curry told NT. ‘One of the most powerful things that brought about change for children’s services was public inquiries like Bristol and Alder Hey. This moves away from regulation which is accessible and transparent.’
Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams added: ‘It is difficult to identify how public protection can be secured if the secretary of state can instigate inquiries to be undertaken in private.’
The RCN is calling for the government to make explicit any circumstances in which publication of a report could be prevented.
‘We would also want to see that the secretary of state consults, or has approval to hold an inquiry in private from the health service ombudsman and the Care Quality Commission, so that the public can be sure that any decision for secrecy does not appear to have a political motive,’ the college adds in its briefing paper.