Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will today unveil plans to compel health workers to admit mistakes that have lead to ‘significant harm’ of patients. Clinical negligence lawyers welcomed the move. 

Hunt will confirm plans to consult on an extended ‘duty of candour’ as part of registration requirements with the Care Quality Commission.

Campaigners have been pushing for greater openness since it was recommended by the Francis report into deaths at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

Health providers are expected to have to own up to almost 100,000 incidents a year under the new proposals, and Hunt said this should ensure hospitals and NHS organisations commit to improving safety.

‘I want the tragic events of Mid Staffs to become a turning point in the creation of a more open, compassionate and transparent culture within the NHS,’ said the health secretary. 

‘We now have a once in a generation opportunity to save lives and prevent avoidable harm – which will empower staff and save money that can be re-invested in patient care.’

The new legal duty on healthcare organisations in England to be open and honest with patients or their families when harm has been caused will apply to any incidents causing significant harm.

The duty of candour will be contained in the Care Quality Commission regulations which apply to all health and social care organisations in England and are due to come into force in October.

Peter Walsh, chief executive of the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), hailed the move as ‘potentially the biggest advance in patients’ rights and patient safety since the creation of the NHS’.

He added: ‘A lack of honesty when things go wrong adds insult to injury and causes unnecessary pain and suffering for everyone. 

‘Organisations that hide the truth are also less likely to learn from it. We are extremely grateful for the secretary of state’s preparedness to listen and the insight and leadership he has shown on this issue. This is the result of a David and Goliath struggle to outlaw cover ups and promote a culture of openness in healthcare. The challenge now is to make sure that the detail and the delivery is right.’

Carlos Lopez, head of clinical negligence at Lancashire firm Birchall Blackburn Law, said health professionals should embrace rather than fear the raised threshold for openness.

’For most clients who are injured as a result of medical injury, the search for answers is often more important than any assessment of  compensation value.

’Over my 18 years of dealing with medical negligence claims, I have often found that the reluctance of medical practitioners to be candid about mistakes, has added to a patients upset and worry, despite the existing ethical requirements of the doctors to let patients know what has gone wrong.’