The Government has been urged to row back on "disastrous" plans to scrap bursaries for student nurses and midwives.
Former shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the decision to replace bursaries with student loans had resulted in a "worrying" 23% drop in applications from prospective nursing students.
Ministers had previously said the reforms would help increase nursing posts and help students from different backgrounds to take up the role.
Health minister Philip Dunne accused him of "scaremongering" over nursing numbers in the wake of the Brexit vote, saying the introduction of a new language test had caused a decline in the number of applicants.
Speaking during health questions in the Commons, Mr Burnham (pictured) said: "When he scrapped the nursing bursary, he claimed his reforms would lead to an increase in nursing applications.
"Last week figures form Ucas showed that there had been a drop in nursing applications of 23% - a worrying trend when the demands of Brexit mean we will need more homegrown nurses.
"Will the Secretary of State scrap this disastrous policy or at the very least give Greater Manchester the opportunity to opt out of it?"
Ministers set out plans to replace bursaries with loans in the 2015 Spending Review, which will affect all new nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students in England from August this year.
Mr Dunne said: "I would urge him not to indulge in scaremongering about the number of people applying to be nurses.
"There are more than two applications from individuals for the nursing places that are on offer to start next August and the number of applications from EU nationals which has gone down significantly. He needs to be careful about interpreting these figures this early. It coincided with the introduction of language tests for EU nationals."
The SNP's health spokeswoman Dr Philippa Whitford echoed calls for another look at the policy in the wake of the drop in applications.
Dr Whitford added: "There has been significant drop, a 90% drop in EU nationals. So with one in 10 nursing vacancies in NHS England and a cap on agency, who exactly does the minister think should staff the NHS?"
In reply, Mr Dunne said: "There are over 13,000 more nurses working in the NHS today than there were in 2010... and the introduction of the language test came into effect in July of last year, since when the applicants have been somewhat steady.
"It is down very significantly but that is because we have had applications from nurses in EU countries who haven't been able to pass the language test."
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Byrne / PA Wire.