Labour claimed that the government has "wasted billions on a top-down reorganisation of the back office" Reuters

Nearly 4,000 senior nurses have been slashed since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which obtained the data via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, matrons, ward sisters and clinical nurse specialists have been hit the hardest by the government's health reforms.

The RCN argued that, even though there are now 4,500 more nurses on wards since the government took office, the cut of 3,994 senior staff represents a "reckless policy".

"We are facing a Europe-wide shortage of nursing staff and the last thing the NHS should be doing at this time is treating its highly experienced staff as disposable," said Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN.

He added: "We need to be doing everything we can to retain the skills we have in the NHS rather than using them as a quick and easy way to make savings.

"These cuts are a short-term attempt by trusts to find efficiency savings, yet they will lead to a very serious and very long-term crisis in our health service."

But Dr Dan Poulter, the Health Minister, argued that the government was putting a lot of money into the NHS and helping staff improve their skills.

"We know clinical leadership by healthcare professionals matters - that's why we're investing £40million in leadership training for ward sisters, senior nurses and midwives to create a new generation of leaders in our nursing workforce," said Poulter.

However, Labour claimed that the government has "wasted billions on a top-down reorganisation of the back office".

"While we know that good ward leadership is important for care quality, it is clear that the government has not learnt the lessons of the Francis Report," said Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour's Shadow Health Minister.

"Patients are paying the price for their arrogance."