Nurses are seeking debt advice and increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders, a union has warned.

Figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) showed nurses were asking for help with debts, bankruptcy and homelessness.

Between January and July, it received more than 1,200 calls to its member support services from nurses needing advice, including on welfare, ill-health and disability.

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This included 231 asking for help with debts and bankruptcy.

The figures come as Janet Davies, the union's new general secretary and chief executive, told the Guardian of anecdotal evidence that nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders.

She said years of public sector pay restraint was leaving nurses feeling undervalued and could push some to leave the profession.

The union's counselling service has also seen a rise in the number of nurses needing help with stress.

Problems filling rotas is also leading to an even greater reliance on expensive agency staff.

Ms Davies said: "These huge agency bills, nurses going to food banks - this is not a great place to be."

She said more nurses were choosing agency or bank nursing because they could earn more money.

And she said a further pressure on pay was the increasing prevalence of "downbanding", where a senior nursing post is re-evaluated and downgraded.

Ms Davies told the Guardian evidence showed that in acute wards, the number of nurses per patient did make a difference to survival rates.

More evidence was needed for other areas of healthcare, "but we do know, obviously, that if people are not getting enough to eat or drink or washed as often because [staff] have not got the time, we know that those are causation factors that might lead to them not surviving. So I think it does affect patients' lives."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "NHS staff are our greatest asset and we want to treat them fairly - that's why we've increased pay for all staff earning up to £56,500 and made sure the lowest paid get the greatest rewards, with a 5.6% pay increase and the removal of the bottom pay point entirely, benefiting 45,000 staff."