The Royal College of Nursing has joined the Royal College of Midwives in warning of a "deepening workforce crisis" in the NHS in England.

The RCN say more than 60,000 posts have either gone or have been placed at risk since the coalition came to power. However, the  Department of Health has accused the college of "scaremongering", and insists that NHS performance is strong.

Yesterday RCM president Cathy Warwick said "NHS maternity services, especially in England, are on a knife-edge", but at the RCM Annual Conference today [13 Nov] Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter moved to allay her fears.

In a speech to delegates at the Brighton Centre, he said that his previous job as a doctor had informed his views, after he experienced the shortage of midwives firsthand.

"Almost every unit that I worked in when I was a doctor had a shortage of midwives, which I thought was completely unacceptable," said Dr Poulter.

"There's a clear commitment to make sure that the work we do means there are more midwives in the future. That's something I plan to make sure we deliver.  Maternity services are my priority over the next two years ahead. We are committed to ensuring that we've got the right number of trained midwives in work."

Yet the RCN's latest data suggests that the "relentless push for efficiency savings in the NHS" has made cuts to posts and services have become "the norm" without the money being reinvested.

The college's Frontline First report says 61,276 NHS posts in England have either gone or been put at risk put at risk since May 2010 with the number of qualified nurses down by more than 6,000.

However there has been a sharp rise in the number of doctors. The figure for qualified midwives has also improved.

But the RCN says it can see no justification for a decline in nursing numbers at a time of increasing demand for care, with an ageing population, and growing numbers or patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.

The college's general secretary, Dr Peter Carter, said all clinical professions should have equal protection.

"For the past two and a half years, the government's consistent rhetoric has been that front-line posts and services are being protected. Sadly, that is simply not the case," he added. "Ten of thousands of posts have gone and cuts are a now common occurrence on the ground, hitting jobs and services that patients rely on."

Dr Carter also warned that cuts in nurse training posts could force the NHS to resort to recruitment drives overseas and said the health service was "sleepwalking into a crisis".

For full live coverage from the RCM Annual Conference follow@journalfhc on Twitter

Posted 13/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com