The number of registered nurses working in the NHS fell by 3,000 last year, according to latest workforce figures.
The Royal College of Nursing described the loss of qualified nurses as “incredibly worrying”.
The annual NHS workforce census, published today, showed the number of hospital and community health service qualified nurses stood at 348,693 on 30 September 2011, a reduction of 3,411 (1%) since 2010.
Meanwhile, clinical support staff numbers fell to 347,064, a decrease of 9,346 (2.6%) since 2010.
The nursing figures come against a background of overall NHS staffing cuts but a small increase in clinical staff.
There were 1,350,377 people working for the NHS in England on 30 September 2011 – a decrease of 1.4% on the same time in 2010.
However, there was an increase in most clinical staff categories. Provisional figures reported by Nursing Times in November showed the number of doctors had continued to rise while nursing numbers had fallen.
The new census figures confirm this trend. Consultants numbers rose to 39,088, an increase of 1,336 (3.5%) since 2010 and GP numbers saw an increase of 371 since 2010 (0.9%) to stand at 39,780.
NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said in a statement: “The fall in the NHS staff numbers is primarily in non-clinical, particularly managerial, posts.
“Most categories of professionally qualified clinical staff saw increases in their numbers – although nurses saw a small decline but numbers are still up on 10 years ago.”
But Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “These figures are yet further evidence of the rising scale of cuts to NHS jobs and services.
“We know that frontline jobs are not being protected and NHS trusts must stop making cuts in a quick fix attempt to save money. Put bluntly, the idea that cutting hundreds of jobs from a hospital will not affect the care of patients is ludicrous.”