The concern of the Hospital Committee of the European Community (HCEC) and other international and national organisations, representing employers as well as employees in health care, about a present or future, quantitative or qualitative, shortage of nursing professionals resulted in 1992 in a research project in the twelve EC-countries. In close co-operation with national and European organisations active in the field, the answer to the following major questions was sought: how many nurses are employed in the different health and social care sectors in the EC; is there a shortage of qualified nurses and in what sense; what are working conditions like; are there other nursing manpower problems and how can they be solved ? The authors have tried both to reflect opinions on manpower issues in the different member states and to collect data and hard facts to make cross-country comparisons and interpretations possible. A shortage of nurses and midwives might endanger the optimal functioning of the health care system. The report illustrates that measures influencing demand (better working conditions, more co-operation and upgrading, higher staffing norms, rethinking of the care sector) as well as measures supporting supply (improved education support, continuing education, higher labour market participation) can relieve or avoid such shortages.