The organisation which represents NHS leaders says staff shortages in the NHS pose a fundamental risk to patient safety.
A report by NHS Providers reveals that staffing shortages are now the number one concern in the NHS and healthcare staff are working on the "edge of safety" as demand for services has increased by up to 300% but staffing has not been proportionally increased.
Ministers, however, say there are plans to tackle the problem after Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced 'the biggest expansion of nurse training in the history of the NHS'.
But, Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, has criticised the training plans saying there is no "coherent or credible" strategy to tackle the issues saying; "They are now working on the edge of safe services. We are seeing so much pressure on the front line".
The news comes only weeks after the RCN raised concerns over staffing levels and the NMC said they were 'alarmed' at the number of nurses leaving the profession.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour Shadow Health Secretary, said;
"This is a damning report. The staffing crisis facing our NHS reflects a fundamental failure at national level on workforce strategy.
"In the upcoming Budget, the government must fully fund the scrapping of the pay cap for NHS staff and bring forward wider funding to put our NHS on a sustainable footing."
Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:
“NHS leaders fear that patients are paying the price as staffing shortages bite. Ministers can no longer dismiss warnings of this kind.
“When the NHS has never been busier, it is haemorrhaging experienced nurses at a faster rate than it can find new recruits. For as long as we fail to train enough British nurses, we must be able to recruit the best from around Europe. If there is a ‘cliff edge’ in 2019, it will be the NHS going over it.
“Year after year of real-terms pay cuts, compounded by extreme pressure in the NHS, left too many seeing no future in nursing. We support the report’s call for the Government to fund a future pay rise with additional money.
“Theresa May must send out the message that EU professionals working here are desperately needed. There are already 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England alone and the number entering training is falling.
“The nursing profession has seen years of poor decisions and excessive cost-cutting - we need investment in nurse education and a new law that makes ministers and others accountable for proper workforce planning and mandated safe staffing levels.”
UNISON say the report “hits the nail on the head” with Sara Gorton, Head of Health, saying;
“This report hits the nail on the head. The NHS finds itself at the heart of a vicious circle. As demands on the health service grow, and pay continues to dive as prices soar, staff are understandably attracted to jobs where the pressures are less extreme and the wages more competitive.
“Poor pay and the image that the NHS is a stressful place to work put off potential recruits, increasing the strain on remaining health staff. And so the workforce problems deepen.
“The government must listen to those that know the NHS best, and stop making it so hard for them to care for the injured and ill.
“Finding the money in the Budget to give all health workers an above inflation pay rise would be the first step to turning around the fortunes of the NHS and those that are working so hard to keep it afloat.”
The report titles; There for us: a better future for the NHS workforce, was released prior to the NHS conference today.