The number of vacant nursing posts reached a new high of 34,260 last year, with some areas only recruiting one nurse for every 400 jobs advertised - revealing a staffing "crisis", it has been warned.
Official figures showed there were almost 88,000 vacancies across the NHS in England in the quarter to September, with 28,242 in September alone.
The Royal College of Nursing said the statistics, from NHS Digital, revealed that the number of vacant nursing and midwifery, posts reached a new high of 34,260 in the three months to September, an increase of 2,600 on the previous quarter.
The college said the data shows that the NHS filled one nurse job for every post advertised.
The Thames Valley area, home to the Prime Minister's constituency, hired only five nurses for almost 2,000 advertised posts, said the RCN.
The NHS in North West London recruited 42 for 2,545 posts, less than one in 50, while the West Midlands NHS filled the greatest number of posts - hiring 1,196 for 2,817 roles advertised, said the RCN.
General secretary Janet Davies said: "These figures pull back the curtain to reveal an NHS desperately short of nurses. The Government can no longer deny the staffing crisis.
"The next generation of British nurses has been deterred by the current whirlwind tearing through the NHS - record pressure, lack of funding and poor pay for staff.
"It has never been busier but is shedding experienced nurses quicker than it can find new ones. Earlier cuts to training places are exacerbating the problem just as long-serving staff feel demoralised and pushed to leave nursing.
"When the Government allows nursing on the cheap, patients can pay the highest price.
"It is time to draw a line under this false economy with urgent investment in services and those who provide them - including a pay rise above inflation - and legislation to make ministers accountable for workforce planning and safe staffing levels."