With more than 56,000 jobs to be cut, the National Health Service (NHS) is heading for "crisis point", the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.
In England, the rate of job cuts has increased by more than 50 per cent with 48,029 posts set to be cut or already lost since the RCN began tracking job losses in April 2010. The figure totalled 30, 873 just seven months ago.
The RCN analysis of 41 trusts in England revealed that clinical posts comprise almost half of the total workforce cuts with nursing positions accounting for more than a third of the posts earmarked to be cut.
Chief Executive Dr Peter Carter said the new figures are "deeply worrying" and that staff cuts "will undoubtedly have a deep and potentially dangerous impact on patient care."
"There is clear evidence that the quality of care and patient safety is improved when you have the right numbers and skills in place on wards. Staffing levels should be based on rigorous clinical evidence and should not be arbitrarily lowered in a short-sighted effort to save money. We are currently working with Peers to table amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to ensure mandatory safe staffing levels."
The RCN report also uncovered a number of trends including "downbanding" - when registered nurses are replaced with nurses of a lower band or unregistered nursing assistants; cuts to preventative services, to the community sector, and to mental health services. In addition, many NHS organisations are now attempting to move away from nationally agreed pay and conditions in attempts to meet their savings targets.
The RCN has previously acknowledged that savings need to be made in the NHS, but says that cutting frontline staff and services that patients rely on is not the way to do it.
However, health minister Simon Burns dismissed the RCN numbers, saying they did not recognise the figures, according to a report in Metro.
"Official government statistics show only a one per cent drop in nurses since May 2010. This is only 500 less nursing staff than there were in September 2009," he said.