NHS organisations will be required to tell patients when mistakes have been made and their safety compromised under a contractual duty of candour announced by the Government.
From April 2013 the NHS Commissioning Board will include a contractual duty of candour in all commissioning contracts.
Announcing the change, health minister Dan Poulter said the duty would boost transparency and openness, increasing patient confidence.
He said the government could not wait for the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report, which is expected early in 2013, to impose the measure. However, he said ministers would take further action, based on the recommendations of inquiry chair Robert Francis QC.
But Peter Walsh, chief executive of patient charity Action against Medical Accidents, said the government was “not going far enough” by not making the duty an essential standard, as defined by the Care Quality Commission.
“The essential standards are written in law and the government has consciously chosen not to give that status to a duty of candour,” he said.
The contractual duty will be used by clinical commissioning groups and included in their contracts with NHS providers.
It will require hospitals to actively tell patients if their safety has been compromised.
The duty will also apply to private providers contracted to deliver NHS-funded care using the NHS Standard Contract.
Under the duty, chief executives of NHS organisations that are deemed by commissioners not to be open with patients could be required to apologise in writing to the patient. The chief executives will also have to report the breach to the Care Quality Commission.
The Department of Health announcement said “strict action plans” to prevent the same mistakes happening again could be required with repeated breaches leading to more “stringent” action.
Dr Poulter said: “When mistakes are made, we want them acknowledged, patients informed and lessons to be learnt.
“The importance of an open culture cannot be underestimated. We expect Robert Francis QC will make further recommendations on the duty of candour when the Mid Staffordshire inquiry is published, and we are committed to taking whatever further action we think is needed as a result.
“But we cannot wait - creating this contractual duty of candour now ensures that NHS contracts for the next financial year will champion patients’ rights to basic honesty, as well as safe care.”