One of Britain's leading health officials has warned that patient care will suffer because of NHS cuts, as it emerged three out of four West Midlands graduate nurses have no jobs to go to.

The warning from Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission, and the Royal College of Nursing added further fuel to criticism of the Government's handling of the health crisis.

A national survey of 20 universities revealed 80 per cent of nursing students due to graduate this year have not yet got jobs, compared with 30 per centlast year.

The Royal College of Nursing in the West Midlands said that of the 4,000 local students in this category, about 3,000 were still looking for their first job.

The Healthcare Commission is responsible for monitoring patient services in the NHS and the private sector, and Sir Ian said "it's hardly rocket science" to see that standards would drop as debt-ridden trusts axed jobs.

"I do believe there is a relationship between financial management and standards of patient care. These are inextricably linked, without a doubt," he told The Post.

"I think it's fair to say that when job cuts are made, one has to be prepared for the effect it will have on patient care, waiting times and so on."

Ann Leedham-Smith, director of the Royal College of Nursing in West Midlands, said the Government's claims to have recruited record numbers of nurses was "a massive misnomer".

She said: "The Government launched a massive recruitment drive for nurses four years ago, encouraging more people to consider nursing as a career.

"But no one seems to have taken into account what will happen to these student nurses once they graduate this year. They have wasted millions by training nurses for whom no jobs seem to exist.

"This is happening across the city - there are major problems there.

"Despite this dearth of jobs and surplus of trained staff, I guarantee that next time you'll be talking to me will be about nursing shortages."

According to the public sector union Unison, it costs #50,000 to train one nurse. Critics said that would mean #150 million had been "wasted" as 3,000 graduates remain jobless.

So far this year, about half of Birmingham University's 53 nursing graduates have found their first job.

Pat Wrightson, head of health sciences at the university, said: "The implementation of the Agenda for Change and the NHS financial crisis has resulted in a reduction of available posts.

"We are working hard to see what we can do to mitigate the impact of the NHS's financial decisions, as our prime concern is for our students."