Hospitals are to be ranked by how many patients are happy for their friends and family to receive the same care they do.
Every patient in wards and in accident and emergency of every hospital will be asked the 'friends and family' question from April next year, in a move the coalition hopes will shame poor-performing hospitals into improving their services.
The measure, which extends a question already put to NHS staff once a year, was proposed by a government-sponsored panel of nurses set up in January.
"Like everything else we're doing in our health service, this comes down to the same thing: making sure that everyone who walks through the doors of our NHS – the sick, the hurt, the elderly, the frail – gets the best care they possibly can," prime minister David Cameron said.
"That's always been the spirit of our NHS, and that's the way we are determined it should stay."
The Nursing Quality Care Forum, which put forward the idea, has also recommended making nurse leaders more accountable, improving training and ensuring nurses are recruited for their caring nature as well as their knowledge and skills.
It also recommended what Downing Street described as a "call for action to increase the number of staff who would be happy to recommend the quality of services that their trust provides if their own loved ones needed care".
Mr Cameron said nurses were the "beating heart of the NHS", but hostility among NHS staff to the government is unlikely to be dampened by today's move.
Earlier this month health secretary Andrew Lansley received a hostile welcome from the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference, after he told nurses it was their responsibility to inform him if their patients were receiving substandard levels of care. They immediately did so, at volume.
"Our initial recommendations to the prime minister highlight the good work which many are already doing to ensure that nursing and care is of the best quality, and we want others to benefit from these lessons," Forum chair Sally Brearley said.
"The forum will now work with others to help make these ideas a reality and to continue to highlight good practice in nursing and care."