The number of people applying to train to become nurses has fallen by 10%, new figures show.
Figures on UCAS undergraduate applications show that there were 43,700 applicants to nursing courses, down from 48,810 the previous year.
Among these, 31,750 applicants are English, 14% lower than at this point in 2017, according to UCAS.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on ministers to launch a national campaign to encourage would-be nurse students to apply before the summer and consider introducing means-tested grants from the Department of Health and Social Care.
The College estimates that the NHS in England is short around 40,000 nurses.
Commenting on the figures, Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "The continued failure of ministers to get a grip on the nurse-training situation will jeopardise care for patients.
"The Government may have agreed to increase starting salaries for nurses but, in isolation, that will not be enough to bring in the tens of thousands more we need. More incentives are needed to make it as attractive as possible.
"Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse at the end. The Government knows patients can pay a highest price when there aren't enough nurses."
The RCN said that while ministers announced extra nurse training places last year, they did not attract students to fill them.
Funding changes, including the removal of the student bursary, were intended to increase nurse numbers, the RCN added.
Ms Davies added: "Ministers must redouble efforts to get students into nursing courses in September this year. Across the board, nursing students must be encouraged and supported - the Government should resolve the loans fiasco and abandon its latest bursary plans."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "Our priority is getting more nurses on our wards, which is why we increased the number of nurse training places available by 25%, allowing more people to study nursing than ever before.
"Any decrease in the number of applications must be seen in the context of this significant increase in the number of nursing places available - and places remain oversubscribed."
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