Scotland's largest nursing organisation has launched a campaign aimed at averting a staffing crisis.
About 200 nurses took part in the campaign launch
The Scottish Executive wants to recruit an extra 12,000 nurses by 2007 but the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) fears that target will not be met.
It predicted that on current trends it would take a further six years to reach that figure.
However, Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said he was confident that the recruitment target would be met.
About 200 nurses took part in the launch of the Right for Nurses, Right for Patients campaign in Edinburgh on Monday.
The organisation said the number of nurses was rising by just 0.4% each year.
RCN Scotland director James Kennedy told BBC Radio Scotland that the executive had underestimated the number of nurses leaving the profession.
"We know that a lot of students are leaving and a lot of older nurses are choosing to leave," he said.
"The major factor, the crucial factor that is influencing that is the increasing workload."
He said that covered core work in clinical areas and the impact of the new GP contract and new systems which were adding to the pressure.
"The elastic is being stretched beyond the point of acceptability," he said.
Mr Kennedy said there was a balance to be struck between bringing in more nurses and holding onto them.
"There is not a shortage of nurses - what there is is a shortage of nurses willing to work as nurses," he added.
They were going off to work in other professions or for health trusts south of the border.
RCN Scotland chairwoman Jane McCready said a recent survey had suggested that 73% of the Scottish
workforce did not believe there were enough nurses to provide a good standard of care.
More than half of those questioned felt they were under too much pressure at work.
"We need to make nursing more attractive to ensure patients receive the high quality care they need and deserve," she said.
Malcolm Chisholm said the target would be met
The demands made by the campaign included legislation to enforce appropriate nurse-patient ratios and more money to fund specialist and consultant nurse posts.
Ms McCready said nurses should be given three days a year for continuing professional development and said nursing leaders must be present "at all levels of the NHS".
The Agenda for Change deal to modernise pay and conditions should be "fully
resourced and implemented".
Mr Chisholm acknowledged that some nurses were leaving the profession.
But he said: "The fundamental fact is that last year we had a record increase in the number of trained nurses actually working in the NHS."
He said the figure rose by 1,000 last year - the biggest rise "by far" in more than 20 years.
"We have made very significant progress in historic terms, but of course I am far from complacent.
"I want to do more and that is why we are keeping up these record numbers of students coming into training."
Mr Chisholm said he was confident of meeting the target of increasing the number of nurses by 12,00 by 2007.
He was "very conscious" of the need to address issues surrounding nurses' workload.