By Nick Triggle
BBC News, health reporter
Lives are being put at risk because student nurses are being left on their own with patients, a study has claimed.
Student nurses should be closely monitored
A poll by the Royal College of Nursing of 1,500 student nurses found nearly half had been left unattended with patients without warning.
Guidelines say student nurses should always be monitored except those in their final year and even that has to be prearranged.
The government said patient safety was of "paramount importance".
The survey showed 44% of student nurses had been left unattended without warning and without a doctor or qualified nurse present.
Eight in 10 of those said it had happened on at least three occasions.
Of the 553 first-year students questioned, 42% said they had been left on their own.
And 15% said they had witnessed adverse events while left unattended.
But 84% said they did not report that they were left unsupervised.
Extremely ill patients
Gill Robertson, the RCN's student nurses adviser, said there were reports of students just eight weeks into their training being left alone.
She said this could happen on surgical wards and other areas of a hospital where patients were extremely ill.
"That is like the average person being left with a patient. It should not be happening and is a risk to patient care."
She added nurses were being stretched because of the cuts being made - the RCN estimates over 22,000 health staff posts have been lost in the last 18 months.
And another survey of nurses working in 173 hospital wards revealed a third of nurses thought patient care was being compromised on each shift because of reduced staffing.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter agreed the financial problems in the NHS were to blame for the problem
"Those registered nurses left have to do ever more with even fewer resources."
Mr Carter also said he was concerned by the reports of student nurses not being able to get jobs once they had qualified.
"I am hearing worrying stories from nurses who qualified last September who are still unable to get jobs because trusts are freezing entry levels posts to save money."
Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "Patient safety is of paramount importance to the government and NHS staff alike.
"We would expect any nurse, whether in training or in practice, to report any incident they feel has an adverse effect on patient safety."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "This is extremely worrying - patients' lives could be at risk.
"The damaging deficits in the health service not only result in job losses but have a serious impact on the remaining workforce."