The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has recently warned that it had exposed “the myth” that front-line care and services would be protected in the government’s controversial efficiency plans, and such cuts would “have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care”.

The representative body for nursing said its latest research had identified almost 40,000 NHS jobs which were facing the axe over the next three years.

A more detailed analysis of 21 sample NHS trusts in England revealed that 54 per cent of the 10,000 jobs due to be cut at those organisations were front-line clinical posts, and 46 per cent were nursing roles.

“Many trusts are not being transparent by admitting to the proportion of clinical jobs being lost,” said Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary. “From our research we now know the truth – the majority of job losses are front-line clinical jobs, the jobs that matter to patients.

Cutting thousands of front-line doctors and nurses could have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care,” he continued. “Our figures expose the myth that front-line staff and services are protected.”

The government effectively paused its modernisation programme for the NHS last week, with the prime minister and deputy prime minister launching a “listening exercise” on the restructuring plans contained in the current health and social care bill.

There has been a significant public backlash against the coalition’s proposals, which includes passing control of 60 per cent of the NHS budget to GPs. The NHS had already been tasked with saving £20 billion by 2015, before the new legislation was floated.

Carter added that services which helped avoid hospital stays – including intermediate care and community provisions – would also be severely affected by the reforms, and that patients were not getting the same care as they did a year ago.

But the Department of Health insisted that nearly 2,700 more full-time nurses were employed now than in 2009. “Any efficiency savings must not impact adversely on patient care,” it added.