Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive of the RCN, has said the government's promise to protect the NHS from cuts is a "myth".
As it released figures showing around 27,000 posts face the axe, the RCN said the public should be "really concerned" about the impact of the cuts.
It said in particular that patients needing operations face growing waiting lists.
Dr Carter said trusts were withholding information about redundancies and recruitment freezes, meaning the job losses were taking place by stealth.
And he refused to rule out the chance of another scandal such as that seen at Stafford Hospital, which has been partly blamed on low staff numbers.
Some 26,841 posts have either gone in the UK health service or are earmarked for closure, according to figures collated by the RCN, which are taken from board meeting papers of about 100 NHS trusts and and Freedom of Information requests.
The posts will be lost through redundancy, recruitment freezes, jobs being downgraded and people not being replaced when they leave or retire.
A huge range of NHS services will be impacted by the cuts despite the government saying health service spending is ring-fenced, Dr Carter said.
"This is set against the urban myth that the NHS is being protected," he said.
"The evidence we have gathered is quite clear: that is not the case."
Copyright © Press Association 2010
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I am a specialist nurse who is due to retire next year. I don't anticipate I will be replaced and I suspect it will be specialist posts like mine which will be affected the most. This will leave the ward staff to do the best they can without the specialist input which has to affect care. Cutting back in this way is a short-term fix which will undo years of hard work and leave trusts very short of the expertise needed to deliver a high
level of care. The politicians never include the NHS in any of their debates on cutbacks, deceiving the public into thinking the NHS is safe. The current situation in hospitals was set into motion long before the election. We have had cost improvement (never cost reduction mind you!) plans year on
year and still they ask for more. We are expected to take a pay freeze and have no incremental rise either. If that is what the government think of NHS and its employees I will be glad to retire but wonder what kind of NHS will there if and when I need it in the future" - Lilian Bennett, Tyne and Wear
"Yes I agree wholeheartedly. I have just very reluctantly resigned as a community nurse as I felt the job was affecting my personal life as well due to stress. Morale all over the area is really low but people are reluctant to leave because of the job/economic situation. Increased responsibilities, lack of management support, shortage of staff (caused either by sick days, long-term sick due to work-related-stress or not replaced with equal hours when staff leave) ... are just a few of the
problems. I could continue for hours" - Name and address supplied
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