The House of Commons Health Select Committee has announced that, during the next session of Parliament, it will undertake an inquiry into patient safety.

The investigation will focus on the following three main areas:

What the risks to patient safety are and to what extent they are avoidable, including:
- the role of human error and poor clinical judgement; systems failures;
- how far clinical practice can be risk-free; the definition of “avoidable” risk;
- whether the “precautionary principle” can be applied to health care; and
- the role of public perception of risk in determining National Health Service (NHS) policy.

What is the current effectiveness of the following in ensuring patient safety:
- local and regional NHS bodies, and other organisations providing NHS services (including primary and community care, and mental health services); and how far the Boards of NHS bodies have established a safety culture;
- systems for incident reporting, risk management and safety improvement: whether adequate measurement and assessment is undertaken and acted upon; and the impact of the changing public-private mix in provision;
- national policy: the appropriateness of the objectives set out in national policy statements, including Safety First and High Quality Care for All, and what progress has been made in meeting them; whether past spending on patient safety has been sufficient and cost effective, and what future spending should be; and the appropriateness of national targets;
- the National Patient Safety Agency and other bodies, including: the Healthcare Commission/Care Quality Commission; and the NHS Litigation Authority; and
- education for health professionals.

The Committee will also consider that the NHS should do next regarding patient safety, specifically:
- whether the measures taken to improve patient safety are supported by adequate evidence regarding their clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness;
- how to determine best practice and ensure it is spread throughout the whole NHS;
- how to ensure that learning is implemented;
- what should be measured and assessed, and what data should be published;
- what incentives there should be to improve patient safety; and
- how patients and the public can be involved in ensuring that services are safe.

Parliament is now in recess until October 6, but the Health Select Committee is inviting organisations and individuals to submit written evidence on some or all of these topics, for submission by September 22. It proposes to begin holding evidence sessions in late October.