Health secretary Andrew Lansley was mocked and branded a 'liar' by delegates at the RCN's 2012 Annual Congress in Harrogate on Monday (14 May).
Mr Lansley endured around an hour of questioning from nurses angered by the recent Health and Social Care Act.
While defending the government's management of the national health service, his claims that the number of frontline health staff had increased during his time as secretary of state were greeted by laughter. A number of audience members shouted 'liar'.
The secretary of state conceded that 3,000 nursing posts had gone since 2010, but said that the loss in numbers was more than covered by increases in the number of doctors and other clinical staff.
'Let's give the NHS credit for what it has achieved,' he said.
Mr Lansley also received a frosty reception from delegates when suggesting that nurses should not be afraid to flag up any concerns they have about staffing levels.
'If any of you have a view that staffing levels are literally not safe for patients I think part of your professional responsibility is to say that. Part of the responsibility of nursing directors and trust boards is to listen to what you are saying.'
RCN research published at the conference suggests that more than 60,000 posts are at risk of being slashed across the health service, including nursing and other jobs. Some 26,000 have already been lost in the two years to April, the College says.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, told the health secretary: 'We have to be clear, a lot of people feel they are not being treated with dignity, not being listened to, not being heard.'