ALL health and social care services staff will be legally obliged to tell families when a patient has been ­accidentally harmed under new Scottish Government proposals.

Health Secretary Alex Neil will announce the plans, which form part of a UK-wide effort to end cover-ups of abuse and neglect of NHS patients highlighted after the inquiry into the deaths of up to 1200 patients at two Mid Staffordshire hospitals.

Known as a "statutory duty of candour", the new rules force hospitals to disclose all harm caused to patients. The proposal was a key recommendation of Robert Francis QC, who led the inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal. The Scottish Government says it will launch a consultation on proposals to introduce a statutory duty of candour for care services designed to improve transparency and drive up standards.

The move falls short of Francis's recommendation to make non-disclosure of harm caused a criminal offence for NHS doctors, nurses or managers. However, the Scottish Government believes it will make it easier for staff to speak out.

Legislation will not carry any new penalties for staff or institutions found to be in breach of its requirements. Health workers are already under a professional duty to work transparently and honestly. The Scottish Government believes there are sufficient sanctions available under existing rules and disciplinary procedures.

But a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "There are no criminal penalties but [NHS] boards will have to publish this duty publicly and they will be held accountable by the Scottish Government, the patients and the press."

It is expected that, when there has been any harm to a patient, a health-service provider would need to provide notification, include an apology and provide reasonable support. However, it is understood that this would not amount to an admission of liability.

For more than 50 years, the Medical Defence Union has advised doctors to tell patients when things go wrong, apologise and try to put things right.

In its core guidance for doctors, the General Medical Council says if things go wrong they must be "open and honest", put matters right if possible, offer an apology, and explain fully and promptly what has happened and the likely short-term and long-term effects.

The duty of candour turns this into not just an ethical duty, but a statutory duty.

Medical staff are liable in negligence if they fail to tell patients that something has gone wrong, and the patient suffers further harm as a result. But legal action on these grounds is generally only available if a patient suffers harm as a consequence of non-disclosure.

Neil said: "The Scottish Government strongly supports duty of candour and believes all health and social care staff must be honest and transparent in everything that they do in order to best serve and protect those who rely on their services.

"Outlining our intention to put this important principle into legislation places a duty on every service to give an explanation to any person who suffers harm and, where appropriate, an apology."

The new duty of candour will also apply to social care events where procedures are found to have been misapplied or ignored.

Dr Craig White, clinical lead at the Scottish Government's Quality Unit, added: "Adverse events are very rare within Scotland, but since setting up the framework we have discovered that staff were not always aware of the best practices to follow when things go wrong. This legislation is an attempt to clarify that, and to ensure the emphasis on these occasions is placed on people rather than procedures."