Trusts must stop trying to save money by employing fewer senior nurses, Royal College of Nursing general secretary Christine Hancock demanded last week.
She told the RCN's annual congress in Harrogate that the value of nursing care was under threat because trusts were weakening the skill mix of qualified to unqualified staff.
She cited the decision of a Midlands hospital to remove all surgical posts at F grade and above, leaving the most senior nurses in charge of surgical wards at E grade.
'Weakening the skill mix is not about saving money - it's wasting money,' Ms Hancock said. 'And it's got to stop.'
Mid Staffordshire General Hospitals trust, identified as the hospital concerned, dismissed her remarks as 'absolute nonsense'.
A spokeswoman said the RCN had obtained a document which mentioned E grade nurses as 'hands-on care staff' and did not mention clinical leaders and nurse specialists.
By reorganising existing surgical wards into high and low-dependency areas, appropriately skilled staff could be matched to patient needs, she said.
But she emphasised: 'We have no firm plans or proposals. We have been researching it.'
The RCN said the document, which was circulating at the trust, mentioned the need to cut the nursing budget.
See news focus, pages 10-11.