Recruitment and retention of nurses should be health ministers' priority, say nurses' leaders, following NHS figures revealing a significant drop in the number of frontline staff.
Latest workforce statistics from the NHS Information Centre show 5,780 nurses have left the NHS since the coalition government came to power in 2010; 700 nursing posts disappeared in June 2012, alone.
The news coincided with the publication of the DH and NHS Commissioning Board's 'vision' for the future of nurses, midwives and care-givers which sets out the a new strategy for England 'that embeds a culture of compassionate care'.
It identifies six values and behaviours for the professions to follow and 'six areas for action to achieve the shared purpose of delivering high quality, compassionate care and improving health and care outcomes'. But it fails to tackle issues of workload or recruitment.
The strategy, launched by DH director of nursing Viv Bennett and England CNO Jane Cummings, is out for consultation until 16 November and requires input from nurses on how to turn the vision into practice.
RCN policy director Howard Catton said urgent action must be taken to curtail the dramatic decline in nurse numbers.
'How tough will this vision be to deliver?' he asked. 'These are fine words and aspirations - but where are the teeth? Given the decline in workforce numbers, it needs to tackle more challenging issues.'
But he added: 'Over the last few months politicians and the media have talked more about nursing. This gives an opportunity to nurses to provide a broad consensus; to talk in one voice about their core culture and values. Asking for their views is a good thing.'
Norfolk advanced nurse practitioner (ANP) Jenny Aston, chair of the RCN's ANP forum, said: 'I don't think anyone would argue against this vision and it is good a grip is being taken.
'I would like to see more details, though, about where funding will come from and how this will filter down. The numbers of nurses is worrying and it is tough out there for community nurses. We need more support and a strategy on recruitment and retention.'