The attitude of nurses is very important, says Mr Johnson
Nurses are to be rated according to the levels of care and empathy they give to patients under government plans.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the Guardian newspaper that he wants the performance of every nursing team in England to be scored.
He said he believes compassionate care was as crucial to the recovery of patients as the skills of surgeons.
Nurse leaders welcomed the move and said they would work with ministers on developing the system.
Mr Johnson said plans were to be outlined in the forthcoming review of the NHS by health minister Lord Darzi.
Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are not planning to introduce a similar scheme, although nurse performance is already monitored through patient surveys and core standards.
Mr Johnson suggested the results, compiled by regulators using patient surveys, could be displayed on an official website.
But he ruled out rating individual nurses and also said it would not affect pay.
Standards of nutritional care, minimisation of pain, hand-washing, and safety on the wards could also be measured, he added.
Mr Johnson said he hoped to encourage friendly rivalry between wards over which nursing team could achieve the best ratings.
The scheme will be piloted and the first results are likely to emerge next year.
Mr Johnson said: "What nurses tell us is that you can have the best surgeon in the world, who carries out the most terrific operation on you, but your stay in hospital won't be satisfactory if you don't get a high level of compassion and care.
"If your experience involves nurses looking grumpy, or someone being rude, or not getting people there when you need them, then it ruins the whole experience."
Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the union would work with government on the scheme.
"These new standards are groundbreaking in that they will directly recognise nurses for the kind of care that patients really value.
"Nurses work tirelessly to ensure that patients are treated with dignity, compassion and sensitivity, aspects of care which are so important but rarely measured."
But Steve Barnett, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, warned: "It will be very difficult to measure and benchmark compassion - particularly at the level of the ward."
Meanwhile, 12 leading health unions representing nurses, midwives, paramedics and a range on non-medical health staff have agreed to sign off the government's three-year pay deal worth 8%.
But the unions have warned if inflation continues to rise they will activate a clause compelling the governments of the UK to enter talks to renegotiate the deal.
It comes after the majority of the unions had already indicated they would agree to the deal after balloting members.