Most people believe there are not enough nurses to deliver safe care, new research suggests.
More than one in four of 1,750 adults surveyed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said they felt that themselves or their families may not get the care required when needed.
Seven in 10 respondents said they believed there are too few nurses to deliver safe care.
The RCN warned that a shortage of nursing staff was compromising patient safety.
It published a report on professional standards on staffing for the nursing workforce, setting out expectations for employers, regulators and national organisations to support patient safety.
The RCN pointed out there are more than 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS across the UK, with many more unrecorded vacancies in other health care settings and in social care.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis is expected to make things worse, as many nursing staff face “burnout and exhaustion”, said the report.
Employers should make sure their workforce plans are designed by an executive nurse or equivalent, with the safety and care of patients a priority over financial costs, said the RCN.
The report also called on employers not to continue to be over-reliant on agency staff, and to reject the practice of student nurses and non-clinical staff being included in staffing numbers.
RCN acting general secretary Pat Cullen, said: “The survey shows that patients experience nursing staff being rushed off their feet and want to know what is being done about it. At no time has this been more evident than during the pandemic.
“The shortage of nursing staff across all specialisms in the profession, in the NHS and independent sector, compromises patient safety.
“We are acting to address this by setting out these standards that must underpin workforce planning. These standards must be consistently applied across the UK.
“Nursing is the largest safety critical profession in healthcare and it’s vital that we have the right staff, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.”