Plans to limit a statutory duty of candour on organisations to incidents of death or severe harm will “legitimise cover-ups”, patient groups have warned.

Health minister Lord Howe confirmed the government’s intention was that the proposed statutory duty of candour on organisations should only apply in the most serious of cases during a House of Lords debate earlier this month.

However, Action Against Medical Accidents and National Voices both argue this is insufficient.

The Action Against Medical Accidents’ chief executive Peter Walsh said the move “effectively legitimises cover ups of anything less than the most severe injury”. He added: “At the time [something goes wrong]… how do you know whether the incident is going to lead to a certain degree of severity?”

The charity has asked health secretary Jeremy Hunt to extend the statutory duty to cases of moderate harm, in line with the contractual duty of candour introduced by the government last year.

Mr Walsh added: “He has promised to listen. But we will not know until he stands up in Parliament next week.”

EXCLUSIVE: Ministers to order staffing reviews in response to Francis