NHS managers have been urged to pressurise chief executives to make patient safety their organisation's top priority.

National Patient Safety Campaign director Stephen Ramsden said it was noticeable how few delegates at last week's Patient Safety Congress were NHS trust chief executives.

Speaking at one of the sessions, Mr Ramsden, who is also chief executive of Luton and Dunstable Hospital foundation trust, said: "We need to take the message to chief executives, directors and chairmen and other heads in our NHS organisations because I don't think they will come to us."

Mr Ramsden said he hopes at least 50 organisations will have signed up to the campaign by the time of its official launch at the NHS Confederation conference on 18-20 June.

Participants will be expected to send a letter to staff with an "unequivocal statement" that patient safety is the organisation's highest priority. "That [the letter] might need to accept that high priority needs to be given to targets and financial balance but not at the expense of safety or patients.

"That leads to tensions for the board, clinicians and staff within the organisation, but it's healthy tension."

Trusts were also advised to provide training for staff involved in adverse incidents and to invite patients and relatives who have been harmed by the organisation to share their stories at board meetings.

Mr Ramsden hoped the campaign would help save 500 lives over three years.

Acute trusts are already being targeted but it is hoped this will eventually spread to other health sectors.