On International Day of the Nurse, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) says health services face extra staffing pressure unless there is an increase in student nurse places.
The INMO is warning the pandemic is likely to lead to a downturn in the number of overseas nurses.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha says nursing numbers need to be maintained over the next two years at least.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha has called on the political parties negotiating a new government to include measures to increase the number of places for nursing undergraduates.
“We're very reliant on nurses from elsewhere to run the health service, we have to make plans because that workforce will not now be available to us. We know that 5,000 students put nursing as their first choice - but there are only 1,500 to 1,800 places.”
"There is also the issue that many of this year’s nursing graduates still find the UK “an attractive alternative – even at the moment, which is worrying.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said any possible reinstatement of a recruitment moratorium must also be shelved.
"We cannot afford now to do anything other than try and retain every single nurse that wants to work in Ireland.
"We are going to have to run almost two services - one with Covid patients who are infected and another service which caters for those who have the 'normal' illnesses."
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said that the new government can increase undergraduate places, the parties negotiating to form a government will also need to look at structure and retention.
“We’re saying to government - this isn’t something that can wait or else we're going to be in serious trouble this winter.
“Every winter there is pressure on the health service with normal illnesses, that's not going to change."