Trusts have been told to use a new safety checklist after a global trial saw surgical deaths and complications cut by a third.
Health minister Lord Darzi described the results as "amazing".
The National Patient Safety Agency said it must be introduced in all hospitals for every patient having surgery by February 2010.
The World Health Organisation surgical safety checklist involves a series of simple checks to make sure avoidable mistakes do not take place during surgical procedures.
St Mary's hospital in London was one of the pilot sites for the checklist, which was tested in eight countries.
Lord Darzi, who before becoming a minister chaired a WHO working group that played a key role in developing the safe surgery checklist, said: "The beauty of the surgical safety checklist is its simplicity and - as a practising surgeon - I would urge surgical teams across the country to use it. Operating theatres are high-risk environments.
"By using the checklist for every operation, we are improving team communication, saving lives and helping ensure the highest standard of care for our patients. The amazing results from the global pilot puts this beyond any doubt."
To see the full text of the NPSA's patient safety alert, go to www.npsa.nhs.uk
Video guidance on using the checklist