Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled a fresh plan of attack on avoidable hospital deaths in England, as around 1,000 patients are unnecessarily losing their lives every year because of staff errors or poor care.

A central vein of this will be an annual review of a sample of around 2,000 patients deaths in hospitals around the country, as well as new action to better support whistleblowers on substandard care.

The plans will form part of a suite of reforms designed to address the “cover-up culture” in the National Health Service that has contributed to a significant number of needless deaths, he told the Telegraph, and come in response to an independent review by Sir Robert Francis - findings of which are due to be published later this week - on the treatment of doctors and nurses who tried to warn of failings in care.

Referring to avoidable deaths as “the biggest scandal in healthcare”, the health secretary told the paper that the NHS needs to ramp up its safety record so that it can achieve the standards seen in other ares such as the airline and nuclear industries.

The Department of Health has now confirmed that, by March 2016, every hospital board will have the first batch of data to inform and drive local improvement on avoidable deaths, and that the Health Secretary will require an annual letter from hospital chiefs on how they they plan to address safety issues.

Hospital mortality rates expert Nick Black noted that a national annual review “would place England as the first country in the world to monitor the extent of avoidable deaths, and provide a basis for stimulating quality improvement in each individual hospital”.