The prime minister’s nursing advisory group has called for the introduction of a minimum staffing level – placing it in direct opposition to government policy.

The Prime Minister’s Nursing and Care Quality Forum has released a statement to HSJ sister title Nursing Times ahead of the government’s full response to the Francis report on care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which is expected to be published on Tuesday.

In it the forum warns immediate action is needed on workforce shortages to “bridge the gap” while the NHS awaits the completion of government backed guidelines on staffing levels.

David Cameron set up the Nursing and Care Quality Forum in January 2012 to review the improvement of nursing care.

Its intervention comes amid an increasingly heated political debate about ward nursing numbers and the safety of hospitals.

It emerged last week that the government-backed guidance, to be developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is not due to be ready until July.

The development of guidance on staffing for different services by NICE was a key recommendation of the Francis report in February.

NICE will produce the first staffing guideline on acute adult in-patient wards. It will then look at staffing in other settings, including maternity, accident and emergency, community and mental health. NICE will also accredit existing tools for calculating staffing needs.

The Prime Minister’s Nursing and Care Quality Forum welcomed news that NICE had been commissioned to review the evidence on staffing levels, but said action was needed before next summer.

The forum called on the government to “take account” of the existing “scientific evidence that a ratio of more than eight patients per registered nurse significantly increases the risk of harm and constitutes a breach in patient safety”.

Forum chair Sally Brearley said: “We ask that [the government] consider this as being a potential way to bridge the gap in safe staffing while waiting for the [NICE] report into the validity and application of tools for safe staffing levels.”

Forum members include Elaine Inglesby-Burke, chief nurse at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, who was a member of this year’s Berwick review on patient safety.