The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for new measures to encourage more students to enrol on nursing courses.
It has criticised measures introduced by the government in 2015 - including the axing of the nursing bursary - as producing the reverse of the intended effects.
The latest evidence of this to which the RCN has pointed is a fall in the numbers starting nursing courses in the new academic year.
In England, these fell to 20,250, compared with 20,820 last year, while across the UK as a whole the figure has dropped from 27,240 to 26,890.
Associate director of policy and public affairs at the RCN Lara Carmona said: "When there are tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs, the government’s own policy is driving down the number of trainees year after year.
"These figures are a harsh reminder for ministers of the need to properly address the staffing crisis that is putting safe and effective patient care at risk."
She went on to argue: “This piecemeal approach to policy-making is futile," saying what is needed now is "comprehensive workforce plans" with a focus on retention and recruitment in order to address nursing shortages. This would include more incentives for trainee nurses to enrol on courses.
Ms Carmona also called for a review of the government's 2015 reforms, something she said the Department of Health and Social Care promised two years ago but is yet to deliver.
It is not just falling enrolment numbers that have caused concern. The proportion of student nurses dropping out was recently highlighted by a study carried out by Nursing Standard and independent charity the Health Foundation.
This showed a quarter of student nurses dropping out of courses and while the figure is little changed from the Nursing Standard study in 2006, the combination of a substantial attrition rate and lower enrolment levels was seen as a major cause for concern.
Written by James Puckle
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