New guidelines brought in after the Mid-Staffordshire hospital deaths to prevent a repeat of the horrific scandal are not being met due to Tory cuts, experts have warned.
A damning report reveals one in four wards are now operating below the recommended staffing levels of eight patients per registered nurse.
And there are fears of more tragedies as health chiefs struggle to recruit numbers needed to fulfil the guidelines of the report into the Mid-Staffs crisis, where 1,400 patients died due to poor care linked to a lack of nurses.
Staffing levels fell by a third after 2106 when the Tories axed vital bursaries which funded living costs for nurses in training.
One in 10 NHS posts are unfilled with at least 40,000 vacancies. At some hospitals one in five nursing posts are empty.
Royal College of Nursing director Patricia Marquis said: “Mid-Staffs has shown us the dire consequences of nurse shortages and yet those precious lessons have been forgotten so quickly.
It will trouble patients and the public today to hear experts warn again of the deadly risks being run and that some parts of the NHS have one in five posts vacant according to this report.
“Now there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England, it is time for ministers and the NHS to get a firm grip on the situation before it deteriorates further.”
The Government-funded Safe Staffing in Acute NHS Trusts study was carried out by Southampton University.
Researchers quizzed 91 directors of nursing and analysed national workforce data.
Report author Professor Jane Ball said: “The ongoing national shortage of registered nurses, and failure to increase supply sufficiently, has not been addressed. This failure has prevented safe staffing levels from being achieved.
“NICE identified a ratio of eight patients per registered nurses as a level that threatens patient safety. But in our survey of directors of nursing, one in four reported wards were routinely running with this high-risk level.”
Prof Ball also said a lack of investment in the workforce meant trusts had a “clear vision of safe staffing but without the sufficient means to deliver on it”.
The investigation into deaths at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009 and a subsequent report by Sir Robert Francis QC led to reforms across the NHS.
But the new study said the initially strong policy response “has become more muted” within trusts.
Rising NHS staff levels flatlined as a result of Tory austerity policies.
Ms Marquis added: “The legacy of the Francis Report was a once-in-a -generation opportunity to increase nurse staffing levels across all health and care settings but any short-term progress in hospitals has fallen away.”
A 2016 Southampton University study warned that, for every 25 patients, substituting just one qualified nurse for a lower-qualified worker was associated with a 21% increased chance of dying.
The latest report said the number of full-time equivalent nurses employed in trusts has risen by 10% since 2013.
There has been a 30% rise in the number of healthcare assistants and support staff.
The report added: “The disproportionate increase in support staff numbers has resulted in a slight lowering of skill mix. Registered nurses account for 66% of nursing staff in 2017 compared with 69% in 2013.”