TWO in three medical and dental professionals are unaware of plans that would make them legally obliged to tell families when a patient has been accidentally harmed by the NHS.

A survey of nearly 300 health practioners showed that 89 per cent believed a statutory duty to admit mistakes could lead to defensive medicine while 70 per cent say it would be difficult to enforce.

Health Secretary Alex Neil announced the plans in October in an effort to end cover-ups of abuse and neglect of NHS patients highlighted after the inquiry into the deaths of up to 1,200 patients at the Mid Staffordshire hospital.

Now the survey by the Medical Protection Society, the not-for-profit organisation that gives legal and ethical help to medical and dental staff has raised questions about the feasibility of the proposals and its effect on healthcare.

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.

A consultation has been launched on the proposals designed to improve transparency and drive up standards.

The survey showed that two in three health professionals did not believe the legal duty to be open would improve openness in healthcare.

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at the Medical Protection Society said the legislation would make healthcare more risky leading to a 'tick-box' mentality which would not support the intensely sensitive, patient-centred conversations that should happen with patients when something goes wrong.

He said: "This legislation would encourage a bureaucratic, top-down, blame culture and will undermine a culture of openness and learning.

"Statute is too blunt an instrument to address cultural issues which act as barriers to concerns being raised. A statutory duty of candour deflects away from developing a genuine, open culture into doing the minimum necessary to meet legislative requirements.

"The only way to change healthcare professionals' reactions to incidents, from fear, to an eagerness to report, explain and learn, is through cultural change."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "These proposals will benefit patients and improve safety. Medical and dental professionals already have a professional duty to be open and honest, supported by legislation regulating professional conduct.

"Our proposals focus on legal requirements on an organisation to have effective arrangements in place - for disclosure of harm, but also for staff support, training and the public reporting of learning and improvement when harm has occurred.

"Supporting clarity and national consistency of organisational handling and disclosure of harm episodes, staff support/training and public reporting of improvement actions has been shown internationally to enhance safety and quality culture."