Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has hailed the health service for “rising magnificently” to the challenges presented in the Francis report into care failings in Mid Staffordshire two years ago.

Speaking at the HSJ Awards on Wednesday, Mr Hunt thanked NHS staff for the way in which they have dealt with the “huge” pressures facing the NHS front line.

He added: “We still have too many people who fall between the cracks in the care they need. We still have new models of integrated care we need to roll out, we still have too many avoidable deaths.

Jeremy Hunt's speech at the HSJ Awards 2014 on 19 November.

“But on the basis on what we have done, the NHS is well on its way to becoming the safest, most patient centred, most compassionate healthcare system anywhere in the world.”

The minister also thanked NHS staff for the welcome he received when travelling around the country. A special mention was reserved for staff in Harrogate who he thanked for “allowing” him to clean their bedpans.

Shortly before the awards ceremony, Mr Hunt told HSJ: “The NHS is probably the most transparent, open healthcare system anywhere in the world. That means that quite often we get a pasting in the press because newspapers prefer to report bad news than good news.

“We need things that celebrate the great things that are happening in our NHS.

“As we move to the next stage in the NHS of transparency and openness, I think that will mean much more hunger and interest in learning from best practice wherever it happens..

The HSJ Awards 2014 ceremony