By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 27 January 2019
Jeremy Hunt the former Health Secretary’s great gimmick was patient safety crusading.
Marvellous false colours to sail under whilst his government destabilised and defunded the NHS.
MidStaffs, Morecambe Bay and other pennants fluttered from his mast.
Robert Francis was knighted and nailed onto the prow of Hunt’s HMS Safety.
Another piece of political theatre was the importation of aviation safety, amidst many a glib soundbite.
The small and largely toothless Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch was established as a shiny beacon of aviation safety expertise. It came with Keith Conradi former Chief Inspector of the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) a part of the Department for Transport.
But there were questions about the nature of HSIB.
In a recent mental health services investigation, HSIB produced an inaccurate investigation report which had the effect of protecting the CQC and minimising the regulator’s negligence.
I asked for historic AAIB staff survey data, including the period from when Keith Conradi was AAIB Chief Inspector.
AAIB takes part in the annual Civil Service People Survey, the results of which are published by individual department.
Staff survey transparency is now an established part of public service culture.
But in spite of this, AAIB resisted the FOI request.
This was also despite the fact that, as another party has now established via FOI, AAIB routinely shares its staff survey results with its staff:
AAIB FOI disclosure 18 January 2019 Ref F0016928
“AAIB shares the results of its annual staff surveys (people surveys) with all AAIB staff.
The surveys include aggregated data.”
An internal review of my FOI request was personally signed off by the current AAIB Chief Inspector Crispin Orr, who also refused disclosure of AAIB’s staff survey data.
An appeal to ICO later led to a decision in favour of disclosure.
But AAIB continued to resist.
Its parent the Department for Transport lodged an appeal against the ICO’s decision to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights), Number EA/2018/0286, dated 22 November 2018.
This was received by the Tribunal on 20 December 2018 according to the First Tier Tribunal website.
I have applied to join the appeal as a party, so I will say no more about the proceedings at this stage.
In the meantime, a subject access request for personal data showed that AAIB and HSIB acted in concert in response to my request for historic AAIB data. The box below shows a disclosed, copied and pasted fragment from an email exchanged between AAIB and HSIB personnel on 23 November 2018:
Are you able to share the AAIB surveys with me?
The ICO has said they are to be released to Min [sic] so I wondered if I could have copies as I suspect she will be FOI-ing us soon
I want to prepare some lines to take in prep for our FOI – Min [sic] is a frequent commentator on HSIB on social media”
AAIB denied that there were any other emails accompanying the above email.
AAIB also disclosed – bit by bit – that the following sequence of briefing emails (supplied as copied and pasted fragments) were exchanged between AAIB, the Department of Transport and the Cabinet Office:
Email between AAIB and DfT Sat 01/12/2018 12:32
“Q2 – why the applicant might be interested in the AAIB?
A2 – Doctor Minh Alexander is specifically interested in the AAIB ex-Chief Inspector Keith Conradi who is currently the Chief Inspector at the Healthcare Safety Investigation Board (HSIB). She describes herself as a NHS Whistleblower and on her website she has a document called “Alexander’s Excavations” stating “mostly whistleblowing , NHS underbelly but other stuff too!”. This includes comments and details of a large number of FOIs directed at the Department for Health and the NHS. Regarding the recent ICO response to the AAIB she tweeted “Upon appeal, @ICOnews has decided that AAIB must disclose the requested AAIB staff survey data. So we will get to see what sort of #justculture existed under Keith Conradi’s tenure at AAIB”
Email between DfT and AAIB (all names redacted)
Sent: Fri 30/11/2018 10:08
Subject: FW: FOI
Dear xxx ,
Please see message below from xxx at Cabinet Office.
Clearly only the AAIB can answer the first bullet! And are best placed to respond to all the others.
On the reports issue, I guess it was only the top level AAIB report that was requested; not the Inspector / admin team splits that sit below that. I have reports back to 2009 or AAIB, by the way.
Email between Cabinet Office and DfT (all names redacted)
From: xxxxx On Behalf Of Employee Engagement Program Mailbox
Sent: 29 November 2018 17:44
We’ve asked an FOI expert here for more information to help us decide whether to appeal.
We need some info from you too.
Do you know:
if the AAIB are content to release their results?
why the applicant might be interested in the AAIB?
how many years reports you have?
if the AAIB employs any SCS staff?
the status of the AAIB? It is listed in the ‘Other’ category of your list of agencies and public bodies on GOV.UK
UPDATE 2 SEPTEMBER 2019:
Staff at HSIB have alleged problems with culture and governance, as reported by the Health Service Journal in June:
The government’s response to a ruling by the Information Tribunal regarding disclosure of AAIB staff surveys is due today.