Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a 25% increase in nurse training places to boost numbers of home-grown NHS staff as Britain leaves the EU.
The additional 5,000 places will bring the number of undergraduate study opportunities to 25,850 in 2018/19, around 15,000 up from 2015.
Mr Hunt called it the "the biggest expansion of nurse training in the history of the NHS", as he also unveiled a series of further policies to boost NHS staff.
Giving his speech to the Conservative conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Mr Hunt announced that an extra 5,500 nursing associates will get training on the job to qualify as full registered nurses via a new apprenticeship path.
The Department of Health said the moves were designed to "reduce the reliance on expensive agency nurses and overseas recruits".
Where NHS land is sold for housing, Mr Hunt said NHS staff would be given priority for affordable housing, benefiting up to 3,000 families.
Existing NHS staff will also benefit from a new flexible working offer, he said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Hunt offered assurances to the 150,000 EU workers in the health and social care system.
"You do a fantastic job, we want you to stay, and we're confident you will be able to stay with the same rights you have now, so you can continue being a highly valued part of our NHS and social care family," he said.
Mr Hunt told party activists he wanted to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world.
He used digital slides in his speech to illustrate the links between good and outstanding hospitals and those with a budget surplus, and those with poorer ratings which had recorded a budget deficit.
Leadership was most important about turning under-performing hospitals around, Mr Hunt said, adding that greater transparency had also been instrumental in raising standards.
He said the NHS was recently rated the best and safest healthcare system in the world by an American think tank, adding: "But - and there is a 'but' - we still have those 150 avoidable deaths every single week.
"Twice a week, somewhere in the NHS, we leave a foreign object in someone's body.
"Three times a week we operate on the wrong part of someone's body.
"Four times a week a claim is made for a baby born brain damaged.
"We may be the safest in the world, but what that really means is that healthcare everywhere needs to change."
The Health Secretary said he wanted to move from a blame culture to a learning culture and support staff that make mistakes.
He also showed a video of Sir Henry Willink, the Tory health minister whose white paper announced the setting up of the NHS.
Mr Hunt showed the video as he said the NHS was not a political football but something that could garner cross-party support.
"It's not a Labour health service or a Conservative health service but a National Health Service that we built and are building together - as I've said many, many times," he said.
"And the next time they question our record, just tell them we've given our NHS more doctors, more nurses and more funding than ever in its history.
"Tell them when they left office the NHS wasn't even rated the best in Europe, let alone best in the world, as it has been twice on our watch.
"And most of all, tell them that if they're really worried about the NHS being destroyed, then there's one thing they can do - ditch Corbyn and McDonnell's disastrous economic policies, which would bankrupt our economy and bring our NHS to its knees."
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Janet Davies said: "Significant increases to training numbers is welcome, we desperately need more nurses. However, they must be educated to the highest standards.
"We are concerned at the risk of students plugging the gaps in the current workforce at the expense of quality patient care and their own learning experience."
She warned: "These plans appear too hospital-focused. It is essential nurses of the future have a flexible education which enables them to work in a variety of settings to deliver a 21st-century health and care service.
"We are prepared to work with the Government on meaningful solutions for the education of nurses.
"Greater flexibility for nurses working extra shifts, supported by new technology, should improve their experience and we support this move."
Theresa May said it was important to give people opportunities to enter nursing without having to do a degree.
The Prime Minister told LBC radio: "I think in a caring profession such as that, we want to give opportunities for people to get into it in different ways.
"It's become a graduate job, being a nurse. I want to give people opportunities to be able to see that they can become a nurse in a whole variety of different ways.
"Getting on-the-job training, I think, is very important. We need to ensure that people who are going into nursing aren't just those who perhaps look on it as a degree opportunity.
"Our nurses do a fantastic job, and people who go into nursing are those who want to care for other people.
"I know how much they care for their patients. I want to open up opportunities for people who want to care for others to be able to come into nursing."
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Byrne / PA Wire.