Next government should take 'immediate action' to boost nurse numbers
Immediate action must be taken by the next government to increase the number of NHS nurses, a report has warned.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said there were fewer nurses now than in 2010 if midwives, health visitors and school nurses were not included.
It said government cuts to nurse training places in 2010 were a significant factor in the shortage.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said they were committed to investing £8bn each year in the NHS.
The RCN said that while the government claimed the number of nursing posts has increased, the headcount figure for nurses fell from 317,370 in May 2010 to 315,525 in December 2014.
It described this as "remarkable" given the continued increase in demand for the NHS.
While 50,000 people applied to become nurses last year, there were only 21,000 places - meaning there is no shortage of people wanting to do the job, the RCN said in its report.
It said cuts the coalition government made to student nursing commissions in 2010 led to a reduction of 3,375 places.
The report said that as it takes three years for student nurses to qualify, these cuts are impacting on the supply of nurses right now.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "We warned that cutting the workforce numbers to fund the NHS reorganisation and to find the efficiency savings was the wrong course to take.
"The cuts were so severe that we are only just catching up with where we were five years ago.
"Many areas, like district nursing and mental health, are even worse off.
"While the health service has spent the last five years running on the spot, demand has continued to increase.
"Whoever forms the next government must learn from this report and take immediate action to grow the nursing workforce, and ensure it can keep up with demand with a sustainable and long-term plan."
The report also said the community nursing workforce had been cut by more than 3,300, despite NHS plans to move care from hospitals to the community.
From May 2010 to December 2014 there has been a 28% reduction in the number of specialist district nurses, a loss of 2,168 posts across England.
A reliance on using agency nurses means that the NHS would have spent an estimated £980m on them by the end of the 2014/15 financial year, the RCN said.
As with GPs, the nursing workforce is ageing, with around 45% being over 45, the RCN added.