The plans announced by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, include mandatory reporting of staff numbers on hospital wards but reject a fixed minimum nurse-patient ratio.

The issue of minimum staffing levels - one nurse to a maximum of eight patients - is strongly supported by Unison, The Patients Association, and the Royal College of Nursing, who are all part of the Safe Staffing Alliance.

The Francis Report was commissioned in the wake of failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust to address the catalogue of errors which led to hundreds of patients’ deaths and appalling failings in patient care.

As Hunt’s response was announced, figures from Health Education England revealed that the NHS plans to employ more than 3,700 nurses this financial year.

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The government has fudged another opportunity to make positive changes that would make a real difference to a stretched NHS. It looks less and less like poor understanding about what is needed and more and more like deliberate policy.

“The Francis Report highlights historic issues about staffing levels, engagement and culture, and unfortunately, while Hunt’s response gives a framework for some change, his proposals miss the real target and do not come close to getting to the heart of the issues Francis identified.

“Of course government proposals to strengthen the nursing workforce are welcome, but they have to be set against the 6,000 posts that have been cut since the Coalition came to power. In the cases we deal with against the NHS more staff would often have made all the difference.”