He announced £4 million for five pilot schemes trying out best practice from Europe and North America on providing round-the-clock care every day of the week and will negotiate with unions and professional bodies to get them on-side for changes to come.
Mr Neil said that although there was no way Scotland would go down the road of an American-style for-profit system, there were examples of innovative care management in Cleveland and Cincinnati that could be worth learning from. He is planning a visit to the US in December.
The Health Secretary argued improved patient flow and timely discharge could be saving money, freeing up resources and making better use of expensive hospital equipment, which could lie idle at weekends.
He will tell the International Society for Quality in Health annual conference in Edinburgh today: "Our health service already offers round-the-clock care - and the standard of care does not vary on the basis of when it is needed. The key principles of safety will always be at the heart of what we do in the NHS.
"However, care will be delivered differently at 3am in the morning compared to 3pm in the afternoon. It will be different on a Thursday compared to a Sunday."
He will add: "While the quality and safety doesn't vary, the NHS must be a genuinely seven-day service where it needs to be. That is my vision and I am determined to make it happen.
"It should mean that pharmacists, physiotherapists, porters - all the services you need to help patients move through and be discharged from hospital - are on hand every day of the week."
While the move towards a 24/7 model is happening in some sectors, Mr Neil has asked senior official in the Government and NHS to report back on the changes needed to ensure the services "works around the clock, seven days a week for patients, when they need it."
The Herald has been running its own campaign, NHS Time for Action, calling for a review of the capacity in hospitals and in the community to ensure the system gets staff to the right place at the right time to look after patients.
Under the new trial schemes, different practices will be piloted in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Borders, Tayside, Forth Valley and Lanarkshire, starting in the new year and running for one to two years. If clear lessons emerged, they would be adopted sooner.
The Health Secretary said all of this was in line with a unanimous report from the Academy of Royal Colleges, comprising all 28 bodies across the UK, so the professions were already on side.
Mr Neil will also commit to implementing recommendations in the Royal College of Physicians' Future Hospital report such as extending the role of hospital physicians into the community, consultant presence on wards over seven days, and community care once patients are discharged.
He said he had already had informal talks with the health union Unison about the changes. "All of this is challenging," he said: "It's not easy but it's the right thing to do."