The unveiling of the new “NHS Mandate” came as health chiefs defended the recruitment of a £97,000-a-year “head of NHS brand”, based in Yorkshire.
NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson denied it was “frivolous” at a time of cuts and a staff pay freeze and said it would ensure private providers understood NHS values.
“It’s really important to us and for patients to know these organisations are signed up to these values and principles when they use the NHS logo,” he said.
The NHS has been ordered to cut £20bn through efficiency savings by 2015 and the Royal College of Nursing has warned 30,000 jobs are at risk.
The Leeds-based head of NHS brand post – which was advertised as having a salary range of £77,079 to £97,478 – has been filled internally.
Mr Hunt said yesterday the new NHS Mandate would ensure the health service is held to account and prevent it from being micro-managed from Whitehall.
It forms an agreement between Ministers and the NHS Commissioning Board, which will supervise the new GP-led commissioning groups when NHS reforms take effect next year.
Among its aims is to make “measurable progress” towards reducing mortality rates to some of the best in Europe - which could save 20,000 lives yearly.
Mr Hunt said: “This is a very historic moment for the NHS, not just because finally something is happening today which has been talked about by politicians of all parties for very many years, which is making the NHS operationally independent.
“But also because we are sending a strong signal that we are ambitious and optimistic about how the NHS can improve and get even better in areas that are key priorities for the public.”