Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the RCN Congress on Monday that, "We've got to make it easier [to report problems] without fear of intimidation or losing their jobs. Hiding things under the table does nobody any good."
He added that nurses should raise any concerns they had with the RCN or the Care Quality Commission.
Next David Cameron told the conference that a Conservative government would "give those who want to speak out a contractual right to do so."
This would mean the right to speak in complete privacy to the CQC, he said.
Both leaders also talked at length about the contribution that nurses make to NHS services.
Mr Cameron told the Congress that his experiences with his disabled son, Ivan, taught him that "it's the quality of nursing that determines the quality of care."
Mr Brown said he could still remember the names of the nurses who had cared for him during a spell in hospital at the age of 16. "I want to say on behalf of everyone that came before me and of all political parties we owe you a debt of gratitude," he said.
- RCN Congress 2009 live blog - Keep up-to-date on all developments as the conference
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