Nurses' role has expanded in recent years
A commission of experts has been set up to advise the government in England on the future role of nurses and midwives.
The group will consider a more central role for nurses and midwives, and how they could help to boost patient safety and quality of care.
It will also examine how nurses could be given more freedom to commission and run their own services.
The commission will consult widely, before publishing its recommendations in March 2010.
All branches of nursing and midwifery will be considered including health visitors, mental health and learning disability nurses and paediatric nurses.
It builds on the review of the health service carried out by the health minister Lord Ara Darzi last year, which made quality of patient experience a top priority for reform.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the traditional roles of nurses and midwives had already changed.
Nurses, in particular, had taken on more responsibility for clinical care, developing their skills as leaders and managers.
He said: "With the focus for the NHS centred on quality, now is a good time to consider how we build on these expanding roles."
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the establishment of the commission as recognition of the important role played by nurses.
He said: "This is the group of health professionals that spends more time with patients than any other, therefore nurses know what's needed to deliver high quality patient care."
Karen Jennings, head of health at the health care workers' union Unison, said: "We need the nursing and midwifery family armed with the skills and knowledge to tackle the challenges of the future.
"The commission will provide a much needed way of harvesting the wealth of ideas and experience that these nursing experts bring to the profession."
But Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, accused the government of lacking new ideas.
He said: "The Matron's Charter in 2004 was supposed to give senior nurses more control but it failed to do so. And it is already the case that every hospital Trust should have a Director of Nursing on its board."
The commission will be chaired by Health Minister Ann Keen, a former nurse.