Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has told an Oireachtas Health Committee that creating a culture of open disclosure and learning from the things that go wrong is the bedrock of making health services safer.

The Committee is currently hearing submissions from the Department of Health on the Patient Safety Bill, which provides for mandatory open disclosure of serious reportable events.

Mr Holohan said that the Department has taken close note of the findings of Dr Garbriel Scally, in particular regarding the "primacy of the right of patients to have full knowledge about their healthcare, as and when they wish".

Although the Patient Safety Bill was in development prior to receipt of the Scally Report, Mr Holohan said it would be one of the primary means for responding to the findings of the report and would provide the legislative underpinning for mandatory open disclosure.

Mr Holohan also told the Committee that further amending legislation may be required following a high court ruling on Health Minister Harris' requirement that HIQA investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Malak Thawley in the National Maternity Hospital in May 2016. 

The High Court recently quashed a decision by the Minister to order an inquiry into patient health and welfare at the hospital. The court found Minister Harris had not properly considered the findings and recommendations of three other reports before ordering the inquiry.

"This judgment has revealed that there may be a need to enhance the Minister's powers under Section 9 of the Health Act 2007, which could require amending legislation," Mr Holohan told members.

The chair of the committee, Independent TD Dr Michael Harty, asked Mr Holohan to explain if there had been a change in policy from voluntary disclosure to mandatory disclosure.

Mr Holohan said a system of voluntary disclosure - where Civil Liability legislation allows an apology to be made without it being taken as an admission of liability in court - would sit along alongside a system of mandatory disclosure, where serious patient safety incidents must be reported.

"So, voluntary disclosure and the protections that that offered is about the totality of all patient safety incidents. Our basic view is that even if we talk about a voluntary disclosure, we don't mean optional. What we mean is that disclosure should take place in every situation and should happen in the right way", Mr Holohan explained.

Mr Holohan said: "The Scally report identified what those involved in a patient safety incident want - To be told what happened and why (the truth); For someone who was involved to say they are sorry, and mean it; To be assured that this won't happen again to anyone else."

"Through this Bill, and the other policy and legislative steps which the Department is taking, that is exactly what we are trying to achieve," Mr Holohan concluded.