The NHS in England has lost more than 5,000 nurses in just three years, official figures show.
Data for May this year reveals there were 348,311 qualified staff working in nursing, midwifery and health visiting, down 5,601 on the 353,912 in May 2010.
Numbers of midwives, health visitors and school nurses have risen over the period meaning the drop is attributable to lost nursing posts.
The figure for the total number of staff working in these fields has dropped every year since 2010.
In total, there were 307,634 nurses, midwives and health visitors working the equivalent of full time in May, down on the 310,793 in May 2010.
The number of doctors working in the NHS has risen slightly over the period, as has the number of ambulance staff.
The data was released yesterday by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The only way safe and compassionate patient care can be delivered is if we have enough nursing staff on the ground, with the right skills and training.
“The ever-increasing pressure nurses are under, with more patients to look after and more complex health conditions to cater for, is untenable and dangerous,” he said. “This is why the reports of Robert Francis, Sir Bruce Keogh, and recently Professor Don Berwick have all called for NHS trusts to guarantee safe staffing levels.
“Nurses in the UK want to be able to provide first-class care every hour of every day, however they can only do this if we invest properly in them,” he added.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Report after report has warned David Cameron of the central importance of nurse numbers in providing safe care.
“But these cuts to the NHS frontline show he is ignoring these warnings and allowing hospitals across England to operate without safe staffing levels.
“It is simply unacceptable that, six months on, the government has failed to take any action on the minimum staffing recommendation in the Francis Report.
“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has confirmed it has not been asked to even examine how to achieve it.
“This complacency can’t carry on,” Mr Burnham said. “The NHS simply cannot absorb nursing cuts on this scale.”
As reported earlier this week, NICE has told Nursing Times it has yet to be formally asked by the Department of Health to take forward a Francis report recommendation to develop evidence-based tools for establishing minimum safe staffing levels.
This is despite the DH saying in March that it would work with NICE on the idea.
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