By Caroline Ryan
BBC News health reporter in Harrogate
UK nurses have voted in favour of decriminalising prostitution.
A reform of the law would remove the stigma surrounding prostitution
The controversial issue led to heated debate at the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference in Harrogate.
But an overwhelming majority of nurses agreed prostitutes should no longer be the subject of criminal prosecutions.
They said doing this would remove the stigma around prostitution, allowing men and women working in the industry to access the healthcare they needed.
But nurses did not back the wholesale legalising of prostitution, which would have meant those acting as pimps would also escape prosecution.
The conference heard how people who went into prostitution were often vulnerable, with a history of debt, and had been in care or had a history of abuse.
The RCN said the stigma felt by many of those working as prostitutes meant they did not come forward for a range of services, including general health care, dentistry and social services.
Delegates at the conference pointed to countries such as Germany, Holland and Australia which have created managed zones for prostitutes who work on the street, and legalised brothels.
They said such initiatives had helped improve the health of prostitutes and reduce levels of exploitation and violence.
Last year, the government launched a consultation in England and Wales reviewing the laws relating to regulation.
The Scottish Parliament is currently debating legislation which would allow prostitution tolerance zones to be set up.
Liverpool nurse Andrea Spyropoulos, who proposed the motion, said: "This is clearly an issue about health, not about the moral, ethical or religious objections people have about prostitution.
"Prostitutes are stigmatised, marginalised and denied access to healthcare."
Joy Hall, of the RCN's sexual health forum, said action was needed to help sex workers.
"The health issues experienced by prostitutes have an impact over the long-term for themselves and their offspring."
But Princess Marufu, a nurse from London, said: "What we should be doing is looking at is preventing more and more people from getting into prostitution.
"This will alleviate the causes that take women and young people into the profession."
Maura Buchanan, deputy president of the RCN, said: "We must stop criminalising the women and instead target the men who abuse them, and all the people who traffic sex workers and target the conditions that drive women into prostitution; poverty, deprivation and drug abuse."