The findings, published by the Royal College of Nursing, confound government guidelines which state that at least two registered sick children's nurses should be on duty at paediatric wards 24 hours a day.
The RCN said that, all too often, this was not the case and that the events at the Grantham and Kesteven General Hospital, Lincolnshire - where Beverley Allitt, who killed four children, was employed - showed management failings which are mirrored across Britain.
The report, Care of Sick Children, calls for the Department of Health's guidance on the welfare of children in hospital to be implemented and warns: 'We must learn the lessons of the Beverley Allitt tragedy . . . serial killers are very rare but the conditions in which mistakes and poor practice can flourish are not.'