Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised the public there will be “a single version of the truth” about hospital performance, collated by the chief inspector of hospitals.

The Department of Health’s response to the Francis inquiry this afternoon confirmed the national ratings set out by the chief inspector will give providers four ratings: “outstanding”, “good”, “requiring improvement” and “poor”. Outstanding trusts will be “given greater freedom from regulatory bureaucracy”.

But the document added: “Award of the bottom category rating in itself will automatically trigger [regulatory] action.”

It said the ratings would draw on a scores from the friends and family test with clinical performance measures.

The system will see the CQC, under the ambit of the chief inspector of hospitals, carry out “thorough expert-led inspections” and undertake a “comply or explain” approach used for “staffing levels, nursing rounds and independent collection of patient experience data”.

Any subsequent enforcement action will be carried out by Monitor for foundation trusts and the NHS Trust Development Authority for non-foundation trusts.

He said if any of a new set of “fundamental standards” were breached by trusts then they would have “a strictly limited period of time to rectify [them]. If they fail to do this, they will be put into a failure regime which could ultimately lead to special administration with the automatic suspension of the board.”

Mr Hunt said the chief inspector would “be the nation’s whistleblower in chief”, but said behind the single rating he would produce would be performance assessments at “specialty or department-level”.