Nurses are "drowning in a sea of paperwork", the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said after figures suggested they spend 2.5 million hours a week on admin.
A poll on behalf of the union found that nurses across the UK spend an average of 17.3% of their time on non-essential paperwork and clerical tasks. The RCN, which released the figures ahead of its annual congress in Liverpool, said that nurses, who work for a combined 14.3 million hours a week, are being prevented from caring for patients.
About four in five nurses (81%) said that having to complete non-essential paperwork prevented them from providing care. Almost nine in 10 of the 6,000 nurses surveyed said the amount of non-essential paperwork such as filing, photocopying and ordering supplies had increased in the last two years. In February, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he had commissioned the NHS Confederation to work with bodies to see how paperwork could be reduced.
"These figures prove what a shocking amount of a nurse's time is being wasted on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy," said Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN.
"Yes, some paperwork is essential and nurses will continue to do this, but patients want their nurses by their bedside, not ticking boxes. We are encouraged that the Government has acknowledged this issue, and the ongoing review by the NHS Confederation is a step in the right direction, but urgent action is needed now."
Labour's shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: "David Cameron is cutting the NHS front line and wasting billions on a chaotic reorganisation, leaving hospitals to operate without enough staff. Now form-filling is taking nurses away from their patients for longer and longer.
"Under this Government, close to 5,000 nursing posts have been axed, with over 800 going in the last month alone. On understaffed wards, a nurse's time becomes increasingly precious - they must be free to care for patients. Ministers must stop the job losses and ensure all hospitals have enough staff to provide safe care."
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said the coalition Government has significantly cut the amount of red tape in the NHS and is examining how to reduce bureaucracy further. He added: "NHS staff need to be free to do what we were trained to do - look after patients, so patients not paperwork must be our NHS's priority."
Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation of health service providers, agreed with the survey. He told the BBC: "I think it is critical that our staff have the maximum amount of time to be with their patients. We understand that information collection is important...but we are still doing far too much on paper, far too much duplication and it really is taking away the time the nurses could have with patients.
He added that NHS organisations needed to share info more often and more efficiently. "At the moment they are all collecting it separately," he said. "They are all putting (in) separate demands and it means nurses are having to fill in lots of things many, many times."