The rapid increase in registered nurses employed in the NHS has come to an end with numbers now falling for the first time this year.

Data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows the number of full-time equivalent qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors reached its highest recorded level of 314,802 in March this year – 4,000 more than in May 2010.

But in April it fell for the first time this year by 660 nurses to 314,142. The latest data shows the numbers fell further in May and June to 313,752, a drop of 1,050.

June overall nurses

Since August 2013 there has been intense recruitment of registered nurses following the Francis report into failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and new rules on safe staffing by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Overall, the “Francis effect” has led to more than 8,700 nurses joining the NHS since August.

In the acute sector, where the majority of nurses have been employed, numbers have begun to fall.

In April the number of qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors working in the acute setting rose by just 54 nurses to a record high of 175,204 nurses. Since August 6,155 nurses have joined the acute sector.

The latest data up to June 2014 shows numbers in the acute setting dropped to 175,039.

June acute nurses

However the data does reveal declines in the number of nurses working across maternity services, mental health services and community services.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing said: “We have always said the Francis effect is partial and it hasn’t been seen in all settings.

“At the moment it is incredibly difficult to recruit.

“There are shortages and employers are going across Europe to find staff.”

He added that the emphasis on safe staffing and publishing staff data would continue to drive recruitment.

“I think these factors will continue to drive a demand for nurses in the acute sector and you will still see recruitment and a rise in the numbers but that will become increasingly difficult.”