The ex-chairman of Marks and Spencer boss, Sir Stuart Rose, is to advise Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on how the NHS can "attract and retain the very best leaders".

The Department of Health says that Sir Stuart will also advise on how NHS trusts can improve organisational culture, through leaders "being more visible and in touch with frontline patients, services and staff". He will particularly look at the problems faced by the 14 trusts currently in 'special measures', the programme to turn-around failing hospitals introduced last year, where strong leadership was identified as key to improvement.

Sir Stuart will make a series of hospital visits and mentor NHS leaders "and examine the challenges facing doctors, nurses and management boards". He will provide the advice in an unpaid capacity until the end of the year when he will submit a short report to the DoH.

He added that "clearly the NHS is a very different institution from M&S, but leadership, motivating staff and creating a culture where people are empowered to do things differently are crucial to the success of any organisation, and I’m looking forward to helping in any way I can".

The news came as a report was published by NHS regulators Monitor and the Trust Development Authority which shows that the 11 hospital trusts placed into special measures in July, and a further three since October, "have each made significant strides towards improving patient care but more still needs to be done". The analysis claims that progress has been made at all 14, including 650 extra nurses or nursing assistants, 130 more doctors and 49 leadership changes.

In a separate review, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Sir David Dalton will look at "how to end the isolation of failing hospitals from the best NHS management and practice – a key finding in the wake of the Mid-Staffs inquiry". He will investigate how to enable the best-performing NHS organisations and most successful chief executives "to establish national groups of hospitals or services as beacons of excellence".

This could include non-geographical networks of hospitals under one leadership team where one NHS trust has hospitals around the country.