The Royal College of Nursing claims nearly 6,000 nursing posts went in the two years after the coalition came into power, despite pledges to protect frontline staff.
A survey for this week’s RCN annual conference in Harrogate shows community services – meant to take the strain as more patients are treated outside hospitas – are also “overburdened, underinvested and at risk”.
The RCN said this could lead to patients being discharged and then readmitted, because of a lack of community care.
It claims 26,327 NHS posts went in the two years to April, including 5,728 nursing posts, and that another 34,786 will go by 2015.
Fewer than one in 10 of 2,600 community nurses polled by the RCN said they had enough time to meet the needs of patients, while nine out of 10 said their case load had increased in the past year.
The RCN’s general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: “Yet again, and despite numerous warnings, NHS organisations are making short-sighted cuts across the UK.
“Nurses are being stretched too thin, and many are approaching breaking point. Inevitably, patient care is going to suffer.
“We are now seeing a clear and worrying picture of a health service which is struggling. It is struggling to keep people out of hospital because of pressures on the community, and it is struggling to discharge them with support when they leave.”
But Health Minister Simon Burns said: “We do not recognise these figures.
“Official statistics show that there are only 450 fewer qualified nursing staff in England than in September 2009 while the number of managers has been slashed by 15 per cent.
“The number of nurses to beds in hospitals is going up and in 2011-12 we expect to train just over 2,300 community nurses and health visitors – double the number of places last year.
“The Health and Social Care Act will make shifting care out of hospitals and closer to people’s homes simpler. No one should stay in hospital longer than they need to and we are already investing £300 million to help people return to their homes with the support that they need more quickly after a spell in hospital.
“This Government believes in the NHS – that is why we have protected the NHS budget and are investing an extra £12.5bn over the course of this Parliament.”