NHS regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is to become independent of ministerial control by law, in a bid to prevent any cover-ups of care failings in the future.

In his address to the Conservative Party Conference, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans to legislate in the Care Bill to give the CQC statutory independence, "so ministers can never again lean on it to suppress bad news".

"The care of our NHS patients is too important for political meddling – and our new legislation will make sure that ministers always put patients first," he said.

Hunt's comments came amid his blistering attack on Labour for covering-up poor care in the past, citing examples such as Morecambe Bay, which was "given the all-clear in April 2010 despite the deaths of 16 babies", and refusing 81 requests for a public inquiry into Mid Staffs, at which it is thought up to 1,200 patients lost their lives because of serious failings at the hospital.

The health secretary also blasted his Labour counterpart, Andy Burnham, for failing to mention any of these serious cases and the surrounding issues - Mid Staffs, the Francis inquiry, the new NHS inspection regime, etc - in his own party speech, choosing to focus on privatisation instead.

"For patients it’s not public vs private. It’s good care vs bad care," he argued, and promised "we’ll stamp out bad care wherever we find it - public sector, private sector, hospitals, care homes, surgeries - and never cover it up".

Elsewhere, Hunt also reiterated the need to transform the care older people receive outside of hospital and "rediscover the ideals of the family doctor", which the new pilot scheme announced by David Cameron - with some GP surgeries opening 8am-8pm seven days a week - is helping to achieve.

The last government's GP contract changes in 2004 abolished named GPs "and in doing so destroyed the personal link between patients and their GPs," Hunt said, and announced that from next April "we will be reversing that mistake by introducing a named GP, responsible for proactive care for all vulnerable older people".