National guidelines have been launched to help the NHS deal with serious mistakes in patient care and become more open in reporting them in Scotland.

The framework, published by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), sets out how NHS boards should handle incidents that could have caused, or did result in, harm.

It follows a scandal where NHS Ayrshire and Arran withheld more than 40 reports about serious incidents involving patients from staff.

Hundreds of reports of serious incidents in the NHS across Scotland were later published, including several where patients had died as a result of errors or accidents.

The guidelines tell doctors and nurses to take a consistent approach to reporting mistakes to cut the risk of harmful events being repeated.

They also outline consistent definitions of what constitutes a so-called “adverse event”.

The most serious of these – a Category 1 event – is defined as events that may have contributed to or resulted in permanent harm, such as death, severe financial loss and “ongoing national adverse publicity”.

HIS said the framework would maximise opportunities for NHS boards to share and learn from each other. 

David Farquharson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “Today’s publication of the adverse events framework signals a new commitment and approach to patient safety within the NHS in Scotland. 

“The challenge now will be to embed the practices and principles within every NHS board.”