The number of people working in the NHS has fallen by 17,000 since September 2005, a new census has revealed today.
This figure includes a decline of 2,456 qualified nurses, a fact that will no doubt fuel existing anxiety amongst nursing staff about their status and pay in the NHS.
In response to statistics from the 2006 NHS workforce survey, the Department of Health (DoH) has drawn attention to the increase in full time equivalent capacity FTE doctors and nurses and a fall in the number of managers.
Headcount among managers fell by 2,564 since 2005.
Health minister Lord Hunt said that the statistics show the NHS is undergoing a "strengthening [of] frontline clinical capacity".
"The small drop in headcount in the NHS must been seen against an increase of 279,454 since 1997, or 248,866 full-time equivalents," he said.
"We must also remember that the NHS continues to deliver for patients. This year we have record-breaking short waits for treatment and thousands of extra lives saved from improved cancer and heart care, meaning that 90 per cent of in-patients now rate their care as good or excellent."
And NHS Employers have said that the workforce is changing as "many employers have been reviewing their workforce needs because of new treatments and technology".
Steve Barnett, director of NHS Employers, said: "It is important to remember that these figures represent posts taken out of the system rather than people made redundant.
"The number of actual redundancies in the NHS is small compared with the total number of posts that have been lost through vacancy freezes, reducing the use of agency and temporary staff and redeploying staff."
But opposition parties have seized on the decreased workforce as showing the government's inability to manage the NHS.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "Government spinning and denial cannot conceal the fact that frontline medical jobs have been lost as a direct result of this government's appalling mismanagement of the NHS.
"Doctors and nurses are the heartbeat of the NHS. It is crazy that we are investing in training more nurses and doctors but then cutting back on posts. This is a total failure of workforce planning."
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