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One body which would have cause for celebration if the new health service reforms come to fruition is the Healthcare Safety and Investigation Branch.

Under the reforms, they would become a statutory body, and with it potentially more powers to protect data from its probes into patient safety issues.

These new powers may have given HSIB more protection against the 12 court orders it has faced since early February which have forced it to give up information from its investigation.

An investigation by HSJ found that 93 copies of HSIB interviews – mainly of NHS staff but also of family members and external experts – have been released, along with their identities to coroners’ courts.

Whether any of the people involved had their identities published is unclear.

But the investigation has shown how little power HSIB has under current legislation to resist court orders demanding information. HSIB only legally challenged one of the 12 court orders – asking for names to be redacted – but even that was turned down.

Keith Conradi, HSIB’s chief investigator, has told HSJ that while the majority of people are happy to speak to the watchdog, the lack of powers to resist the disclosures are “damaging to the organisation”.

Infection under the microscope

As the pandemic has dragged on, one of the major challenges for exhausted NHS staff has been to maintain rigorous infection prevention and control standards.

The North West region appears to have struggled more than most on this front, with a group of doctors already flagging serious deficiencies in a research paper in December.

New analysis by HSJ now suggests the region has continued to see disproportionately high rates of hospital acquired covid over the last 12 weeks, despite overall covid occupancy being far less than some other areas.

According to some internal NHS England papers, a number of common themes have been identified as driving the infections in the region, including “breaches in the basic tenets of infection prevention control”, insufficient numbers of cleaning staff at some trusts, and a lack of consistent testing.

It is understood work has now begun in Greater Manchester to examine deaths that may have been caused by nosocomial covid infections, with senior sources elsewhere in the region saying they will be undertaking similar work.