Health minister Simon Burns has promised an extra £3.7m to develop the incident reporting and safety alert service currently run by the soon to be defunct National Patient Safety Agency.
In a speech to the Patient Safety Congress yesterday, Mr Burns told delegates that the NPSA “should be congratulated” on its national reporting and learning service that collects and analyses confidential patient safety incidents and issues safety alerts.
This service is set to survive the impending abolition of the NPSA, which is to be scrapped as part of the government’s drive to reduce the number of arms length bodies.
Responsibility for the service will transfer to the NHS Commissioning Board, although it is unclear at present which organisation will actually run it for the board.
Mr Burns said the change would mean patient safety would be “embedded” in the heart of the NHS rather than “at arms length” and the extra money for the current financial year would help it “develop further”.
The minister gave the keynote address at this year’s conference in Birmingham after health secretary Andrew Lansley pulled out due to “cabinet business”.
Mr Burns told delegates the “pause” in the progress of the Health Bill and listening exercise were essential to “make sure that what we want to happen is what actually happens”.
He also described a demand from deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg that Monitor’s proposed role as economic regulator be removed from the bill “an interesting contribution”.
In addition, he revealed that the government was considering reinforcing the commitment in the NHS Constitution to protect whistleblowers and promised the government would “do all it can to put patient safety at the top of everyone’s list”.
However, when asked by Peter Walsh, chief executive of the charity Action Against Medical Accidents, whether the government planned to introduce a legally binding duty of candour as set out in the coalition programme for government, Mr Burns said the issue was still under consideration and he was “not in a position to give an answer”.
“I look forward to a time when there is no need for people to blow the whistle because there is a culture of transparency [in the NHS],” he said.