The government has announced a new drive to dramatically curb avoidable harm in hospital patients, in a move that aims to save 6,000 lives over the next three and a half years as well claw back some much needed cash for the NHS.

Under the ambitious plans, each NHS organisation will be invited to ‘Sign up to Safety’, setting out a public strategy for reducing avoidable harm such as medication errors, blood clots and bed sores by half over the timeframe.

As an extra sweetener, once these plans have been approved by the NHS Litigation Authority, which indemnifies trusts against law suits, hospitals successful in implementing them will pay lower premiums for their policies with the Authority.

The government also promised to introduce a 'Duty of Candour', with current proposals for its inclusion within the Care Quality Commission's registration requirements, in order to instil openness and honesty as the norm across all health and social care organisations, it said.

"We now have a once in a generation opportunity to save lives and prevent avoidable harm – which will empower staff and save money that can be re-invested in patient care," said health secretary Jeremy Hunt, unveiling the plans across the Atlantic at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle this week. 

"I want the tragic events of Mid Staffs to become a turning point in the creation of a more open, compassionate and transparent culture within the NHS," he stressed.

Other measures to ramp up patient safety include recruiting 5,000 safety champions as local change agents, creating a new Safety Action for England (SAFE) team that will consist of senior clinicians, managers and patients with a proven track record in tackling unsafe care, and launching a dedicated section of the NHS Choices website in June called ‘How Safe is my Hospital’.

Hunt did caution that these measures will likely lead to an increase in the numbers of reported harm incidents in the NHS "even though care will be getting safer," and that NHS England will assess whether a hospital is reporting fewer, more or an expected number of incidents.