New guidelines will order doctors and nurses to apologise to patients and families
Doctors and nurses are being ordered to own up to their mistakes and to say sorry to patients and families.
The joint guidelines from the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council instruct staff to report an error immediately to prevent a repeat.
Figures show as many as a fifth of all hospital trusts are under-recording mistakes and near-misses - some of which have fatal consequences.
They include 'never' events such as the wrong organs being removed, swabs left inside patients or overdoses of drugs.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted the importance of honesty in a speech at St Thomas' hospital in London.
The guidelines urge staff to report errors or near misses to managers immediately, then inform patients and properly apologise, and accept 'personal responsibility'.
Next, they must tell patients how the mistake will be remedied.
For example, if a swab has been left inside a patient following an operation they will need further surgery to remove it.
Hospitals are meant to record mistakes and near misses to an agency known as the NHS's National Reporting and Learning System.
But an analysis by Department of Health in June identified that 29 of 130 the hospital trusts in England were under-reporting these incidents - a fifth of the total.
Separate figures show that last year there were 312 never events across the NHS - six every week.
Jeremy Hunt said: 'Transparency and honesty when things go wrong are powerful tools to improve patient safety, and part of the continued culture change we are determined to see in the NHS.
'These new guidelines will complement the statutory duty of candour on organisations and help make the NHS safer than ever before.'