HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised on behalf of the Government and the NHS to the victims of Jimmy Savile's "sickening" sexual abuse in hospitals across the country.

Mr Hunt acknowledged they had been "let down badly" and said he hoped honesty and transparency about what happened could help alleviate the victims' suffering.

He spoke after a series of investigations found the disgraced television presenter subjected patients in hospitals to "truly awful" sexual abuse for more than four decades.

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Making a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt said: "Today I want to apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS to all the victims who were abused by Savile in NHS-run institutions.

"We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through.

"If we cannot undo the past, I hope that honesty and transparency about what happened can at least alleviate some of the suffering, it's the least we owe them."

Mr Hunt said Savile repeatedly exploited the "trust of a nation" for his own "vile purposes" and that victims who spoke up were not believed.

The Health Secretary stressed it was important to recognise the "profoundly uncomfortable truth" of what the victims went through.

Mr Hunt told the Commons: "I know this House, indeed the whole country, will share a deep sense of revulsion at what they (the investigations) revealed.

"A litany of disturbing accounts of rape and sexual abuse committed by Savile on vulnerable children and adults over a period of decades.

"At the time the victims who spoke up were not believed and it's important today that we all publicly recognise the truth of what they have said.

"But it is a profoundly uncomfortable truth.

"As a nation at that time we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes.

"Today's report (says) that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes."

His description of Savile as previously being held in the nation's affection as a "somewhat eccentric national treasure" were met with shouts of "no he wasn't" from some on the Labour benches.

Mr Hunt said the revelations painted a "terrible picture" of victims being repeatedly ignored as people and institutions "turned a blind eye".

The Health Secretary said: "Today's reports will shake this House and our country to the core.

"Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people who expected and had a right to expect to be safe.

"His actions span five decades, from the 1960s to 2010.

"The family favourite loved by millions courted popularity and used it to perpetrate and cover up his own evil acts.

"I, and I'm sure the whole House, will want to pay tribute to all the victims who came forward to talk about their experiences.

"It took great courage for them to relive their often extremely distressing and disturbing experiences.

"These reports paint a terrible picture as time and again victims were ignored or if they were not, little or no action was taken.

"The systems in place to protect people were either to weak or were ignored.

"People and institutions turned a blind eye."

Mr Hunt told MPs changes to the law and protection system would make it much harder for someone like Savile to carry out the same sort of crimes for so long.

He said: "Savile was, however, never convicted of any offence so this safeguarding system depends on much better awareness and a much heightened vigilance against such abuse by professionals and the public than there was in the past.

"Whilst that is reassuring to an extent, we cannot be complacent. So today I am writing to all the system leaders in the NHS - NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Monitor and the CQC - to ask them to ensure that they and all trusts review safeguarding arrangements in light of the report, and ensure they are confident about patient safety."

He added the Department of Health had accepted all the specific recommendations assigned to it in the Broadmoor report.

Mr Hunt said there were "painfully obvious lessons" for the system, including never giving people the level of access Savile received to wards and patients without "proper checks", making sure staff feel supported to challenge abusive people and ensuring patients who report abuse are listened to.

He said: "It's deeply shocking so few people felt that they could speak up and even more shocking no-one listened to those who did speak up.

"That is now changing in the NHS but we have a long way to go."

Mr Hunt added the "extraordinary contribution" of thousands of NHS volunteers must not be hindered, telling MPs: "They are the opposite of Savile and we need to ensure their remarkable contribution is sustained."

Mr Hunt said: "Today, above all, we should remember the victims of Savile. They were brave, they have been vindicated.

"He was a coward, he has been disgraced.

"The system failed to prevent him abusing, it failed to act when people spoke up. We must not allow history to repeat itself."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham echoed Mr Hunt's apology as he labelled the scandal as "one of the worst failures" of protecting the patients and the public that the country has ever seen.

He said: "These reports published today are truly disturbing and as sickening as any ever presented to this House.

"How a celebrity DJ and predatory sex offender came to have unfettered access to vulnerable patients across the NHS and gold-plated keys to its highest security hospital surely ranks as one of the worst failures of patient and public protection our country has ever seen.

"It raises questions of the most profound kind, about how victims of abuse are treated, how systems protecting vulnerable children and adults work, and the nature of celebrity and society's relationship with it.

"(Mr Hunt) was right to begin with an apology and I support him in making it - an apology to the hundreds of people who were appallingly failed and whose lives have been haunted ever since.

"Our first thought must be with them today. They had a right to look at the NHS as a place of safety and sanctuary but were cruelly let down by the very institutions that were meant to offer protection."

Mr Burnham sought assurances that all of Savile's victims will receive access to counselling and that all of their concerns are heard, as he cited reports of one person who tried to come forward but was ignored in October 2012.

The Labour front-bencher also suggested that public funds should be made available for compensation claims from victims if Savile's estate runs out of cash.

He said: "Given what has been revealed today and the abject failures of public bodies, shouldn't the Government now consider allocating public funds to ensure all people damaged by Savile are properly compensated and supported?"

Mr Burnham also said the report did not make clear that a proper process was in place to hold to account people who failed in their public duties.

He asked Mr Hunt to offer assurances that any person working in the NHS or Department of Health who had a role in the crimes faced the "full weight of the law", while those who were negligent in their public duties would be "held fully to account".