Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans for a taskforce to improve safety of surgery after it emerged more than 80 per cent of never events during 2011-12 occurred in operating theatres.

Figures released by the Department of Health today show of the 326 never events reported to strategic health authorities last year, 161 related to foreign objects left inside patients following an operation, 70 to surgery on the wrong part of the body and 41 to the wrong implant or prosthesis.

The only other never event to be reported more than 10 times was misplaced naso or oro-gastric feeding tubes resulting in death or severe harm. There were 23 such incidents during the year.

Mr Hunt said: “The NHS treats a million people every 36 hours, and we know that the vast majority of these patients have excellent care. But the NHS needs to do more to really tackle these events.

“The NHS Commissioning Board is now setting up a taskforce to eradicate these never events from NHS surgery.”

Surgical teams at a number of NHS trusts have been criticised for failing to use the World Health Organization surgical safety checklist over the past 18 months.

Use of the checklist in considered best practice in order to minimise mistakes. However, Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, Plymouth Hospitals Trust, Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, Croydon Health Services Trust and Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust have all been criticised by the Care Quality Commission for not using it.

Clare Marx, council lead for patient safety at the Royal College of Surgeons, said the college was “unequivocal” that surgeons must “participate constrictively” in all stages of the checklist.

She added: “The college is committed to ensuring serious preventable incidents do not happen. An important part of this process is the surgical safety checklist, which was developed to facilitate changes in attitudes and behaviours among the surgical team, thereby improving team working and safety.”