Nurses are to step up their campaign for the Government to end the cap on public sector pay as new figures reveal that the number of experienced nurses leaving the profession has doubled in the last three years.
The Royal College of Nursing is staging 40 events across the UK today, warning of a "perfect storm" hitting the profession.
Twice as many senior nurses are quitting compared to three years ago after seeing their pay fall, said the RCN.
A study of the college's membership showed that 600 nursing staff who have been in the job for at least a decade are leaving every year.
RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: "The best nurses shouldn't be forced to throw in the towel because of staff shortages, relentless pressure and poor pay. This perfect storm is engulfing nursing and the stakes could scarcely be higher.
"When these people leave nursing, they are taking years of knowledge and hands-on experience with them.
"Patients get the best care when the most experienced nurses work alongside the newly trained. That practice is now at risk.
"All four countries of the UK need a plan to retain the years of collective experience and stem these losses.
"They must commit to safe staffing levels in legislation, invest in health services and lift the pay cap that is cutting salaries in real-terms."
The RCN is holding a summer of protests and is threatening a ballot on industrial action later this year if the pay cap is not lifted.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "As the Secretary of State has made clear, the support and welfare of NHS staff is a top priority as they do a fantastic job - the Government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class patient care."