Staff nurses alone need a 17 per cent increase - pounds 2,185 a year - to put them on an equal footing with the vast majority of new teachers who earn pounds 15,012.
While it would cost pounds 1.2bn to achieve this, the RCN argues that the money is there after the Government announced pounds 21bn for health spending in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The United Kingdom's largest ever survey of nurses, Changing Times, found that such was the problem of recruitment that National Health Service employers in England alone spent pounds 192m on agency nurses and pounds 41m on recruitment advertising in 1996/7.
Of the 3,862 nurses questioned, newly qualified nurses were the most dissatisfied with pay. More than four-fifths of nurses who qualified between 1996/7 believed they could be paid more for less effort if they left nursing. One in three hospital nurses said that better pay would increase the likelihood of them staying, with nearly one in five citing better resources to do their job as an incentive to stay.
Three-fifths said that they had worked excess hours in their last week - on average 5.7 hours, mainly because of staff shortages and unplanned peaks in workload. One-third of nurses said they worked excess hours several times a week.
In order to meet the demand for nurses into the next century, the number of students would need to rise to about 31,000 by the year 2011 - double the current intake. And the number of nurses registering for the first time with the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing has fallen every year this decade.
Changing Times was being launched today to support the RCN's evidence to the independent pay review body, which will decide what wage rise nurses will receive in 1999. It will make their recommendations on pay in the new year.
"The public knows that you can't run the health service without nurses. They are the key to providing the best patient care," said Christine Hancock, general secretary of the RCN. "Changing Times shows that pay is the real issue for nurses. In the survey, nurses in the health service tell us that better pay is the single most important factor likely to make them stay.
"Rather than wasting millions on employing agency nurses and recruitment advertising, the Government must act on nurses' pay - the most immediate and effective way to tackle nursing shortages."
Last Friday, the Government did acknowledge that the image of nursing was so poor and the difficulties of recruiting nurses so great that an increase in starting pay was essential. In evidence to the nurses' pay review body, ministers said improvements in starting pay should take priority with a rise in London weighting, reflecting the particular difficulties in the capital.Reuse content