Minimum safe staffing levels should be drawn up by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and policed by the Care Quality Commission, according to the Francis report.
The Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report, written by Robert Francis QC, was published today.
It recommended that NICE develops “evidence-based tools for establishing the staffing needs of each service” in the NHS, which it is “likely to require as a minimum in terms of staff numbers and skill mix. This should include nursing staff on wards, as well as clinical staff”.
“These tools should be created after appropriate input from specialties, professional organisations, and patient and public representatives, and consideration of the benefits and value for money of possible staff: patient ratios,” the report said.
It said they should act as a practical means of measuring compliance with “fundamental standards” that should be policed by the CQC.
“These measures need to be readily understood and accepted by the public and healthcare professionals,” the report said.
“Adoption of these practices, or at least their equivalent, is likely to help ensure patients’ safety,” it added.
The report noted that where NICE was unable to produce relevant procedures, metrics or guidance, the CQC should seek assistance from the royal colleges or other appropriate organisations.
The recommendation from Mr Francis follows the results of a Nursing Times survey, revealed on Sunday, which found more than half of nurses believe their ward or unit is dangerously understaffed.
The Royal College of Nursing, Unison and other groups have consistently backed the introduction of minimum staffing levels. They are already used in some states in the US and other countries.
However, the Department of Health has previously been reluctant to support a move towards nationally set staffing levels.
The national nursing strategy, Compassion in Practice, published at the end of last year by the new NHS Commissioning Board called for the use of locally set evidence-based tools on staffing.