The Royal College of Nursing has warned that the NHS is “sleepwalking into a crisis” after hundreds of nursing jobs were lost in the West Midlands.

Despite government promises not to cut NHS spending, and to protect frontline services, 337 nursing posts have been abolished in the region since May 2010, official figures show.

But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) claims that official figures don’t show the true extent of the losses, and it has identified 1,600 positions which have been lost or are at risk at hospitals and other NHS trusts in the region.

This figure is disputed by many of the hospitals named by the RCN as cutting posts.

The organisation has published a report claiming more than 61,000 posts across the NHS in England are now at risk or have been axed, as part of a campaign it is calling Frontline First.

It called on ministers to prevent NHS trusts from “continuing with this damaging agenda of cuts” that “impact on patient care”.

RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: “The cumulative effect of those local decisions means that we are heading towards a crisis as far as the supply of nursing is concerned which will have an impact on patient care.

“There has to be national oversight to make sure that we are getting the right numbers of healthcare professionals across the system.

“Getting the nursing numbers right is fundamental, it’s core.

“If attention isn’t paid to this warning from us we are very, very concerned about what the impact on care will be.”

Statistics from NHS show that the number of full-time-equivalent qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff in the in the area covered by West Midlands Strategic Health Authority has fallen by 337 since May 2010.

However, the statistics also show that the number of midwives has risen by 101 and the number of qualified school nurses has risen by 43, suggesting that the number of nurses in other roles such as hospital settings has actually fallen by as much as 481.

The same official figures show that the number of NHS doctors in the region has risen by 584 since the Coalition came to power.

Health minister Dan Poulter said: “NHS performance is strong – waiting times and infection rates are at record low levels. To say that the NHS is in crisis is scaremongering and doesn’t reflect reality.

“This Government fully supports the NHS and will put an extra £12.5 billion into the health services by 2015. But at the same time, the health service is changing - average lengths of stay in hospitals are about one third shorter than they were 10 years ago, and there is more surgery where patients don’t have to stay overnight on a ward. The numbers of patients treated as day cases is 500,000 more than it was two years ago.

“The NHS workforce is changing to reflect this and the NHS workforce of tomorrow will be different to what it is today. But changes must be decided at a local level, based on evidence that they will improve patient care.”

But Labour MP John Spellar (Lab Warley) accused the Government of breaking its pledge to protect the NHS.

He said: “Patients are paying the price for Cameron’s broken promises as more people wait longer in A&E and the number of patients left waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors is up by a third.

“It’s time for Cameron to get his priorities straight and deliver on his election promise to protect the NHS and put patients’ needs first.”