New figures show the number of NHS practice nurses has fallen and experts are warning there is a `staff shortage timebomb`.
According to the annual census by the NHS Information Centre, there was a 3.6% annual fall in the number of practice nurses and a 6% fall in nursing assistants and auxiliary staff.
However, overall staffing levels for the service reached a record high of 1,368,200 in September 2008, with the total number of managers working for the service increasing three times faster than the total number of nurses.
But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that 200,000 nurses are due to retire in the next decade, which will reduce the availability of NHS nurses even further.
Dr Peter Carter, from the RCN, said: `The Government has been urging the health service to move care closer to home, yet it is community nurses that we are going to be losing to retirement over the next few years. All of this points to an NHS staff shortage timebomb.`
The census shows a 27.7% increase in staffing levels compared to 1998, but just 408,200 qualified nurses and 25,700 midwives were NHS employed in September 2008. The census also showed increases in the numbers of school nurses, modern matrons, GPs, community matrons, physiotherapists and radiographers.
Among managers and senior managers, it showed a 9.4% increase compared to the previous year with numbers rising to 39,900 in September 2008.