Rising patient numbers, falling staff levels and deep Government cuts have sent nurses' morale plummeting, according to a new survey.
Unison, the UK's biggest health union, says that only 10%of the 3,000 nurses they quizzed felt they were in a position to deliver dignified, compassionate care all of the time.
Nearly three quarters said that government cuts were affecting their work and only 8% of nurses said patient care had improved in the last 12 months – 35 per cent said standards had fallen.
Christine Dayus, Unison organiser for health in Cornwall, said it was a national survey which was very much being replicated in the Westcountry.
"There is no doubt about it," she said. "This is a national picture but it is true in the South West."
Mrs Dayus said the fact that 20 health trusts, including hospitals in Plymouth, Exeter and Truro, had joined the South West Pay Consortium (SWC) had made matters worse.
Members of the SWC say they are trying to meet future economic challenges, but unions say it is an excuse to drive down pay and conditions.
"The fact that employers have joined the SWC is causing plummeting staff morale.
"Nurses feel they will be valued even less in the future than they have been in the past.
"Staff are struggling to deliver the quality of care they feel themselves is a minimum and many are working much longer hours than they are paid for."
The Unison survey identified the major barriers to delivering top quality patient care as being staffing levels, unreasonable workloads, stress and service cuts.
It is estimated that 5,000 nurses have left the NHS in the last year.