Nine out of 10 hospitals in England are reporting dangerous shortages of nurses with staff worried services could be "tipped over the edge".
The figures show some hospitals have just one nurse for 22 patients fuelling fears of an NHS winter crisis.
The report found that 207 of the 225 acute hospitals in England have been unable to find enough nurses to staff their wards, a decline on last winter.
This comes after a parliamentary report warned a cap on immigration into the UK could be responsible for the nursing crisis in the NHS.
A survey of almost 1,000 nurses in the Nursing Times also reveals growing strain, with more than half warning that low staffing levels mean that they can no longer guarantee safe care for their patients all of the time.
Those polled said pressures had grown in the last year with three quarters saying they were forced to leave patients without the care which was needed.
One nurse described having to make herself "stop from crying" as her hospital admitted more and more patients, with no extra staff to care for them.
This follows government pledges to boost NHS staffing levels following the Stafford Hospital scandal.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing told The Telegraph she feared that the NHS would struggle to cope in the busiest period of the year.
Staff shortages have fuelled a rise in international recruitment and agency staff with Trusts paying out up to £2,200 for a 12-hour shift.
Last month, ITV News revealed that NHS trusts in London and the South East were spending 81 per cent more on temporary staff than five years. ago.
Hospitals have now been told to cut the rates paid for agency staff.
Justin Madders, shadow health minister, said: "These figures illustrate the scale of the nurse staffing crisis now engulfing the NHS.
"The Government’s cuts to nurse training places have left hospital wards dangerously understaffed, forcing NHS bosses to waste huge amounts of money on expensive agency staff."
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the shortages across the country were "very worrying".
"The government must rethink its strategy, so that more nurses are encouraged into training and Trusts can stop spending excessive amounts of money on agency staff," she said.
Responding to the findings, the Department of Health said that staffing is a priority.