NHS Scotland nurse and midwife numbers fall by 700

Hospital ward - generic
Image caption The Scottish government said staff reductions were lower than projected

The number of nurses and midwives employed by NHS Scotland has fallen by more than 700 since last autumn.

Scottish government-published figures also showed the health service employs more than 130,000 people in Scotland, 1,600 fewer than in September 2010.

The number of consultants employed rose by almost 50.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the health service was becoming more efficient, while also performing better.

But opposition parties said frontline health workers were bearing the brunt of NHS spending cuts.

According to the latest official figures, the number of "whole time equivalent" nurses and midwives stood at 57,166 at the end of March, compared with 57,878 on 30 September, 2010.

Consultant employment stood at 4,423 on 31 March, compared with 4,375 at the end of September.

Over the same period, total NHS Scotland whole time equivalent staff numbers, excluding GPs and dental staff, fell from 134,964 to 133,325.

Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "The SNP said they would cut NHS managers, but it is clear from these new figures that it is frontline nurses that are being forced to bear the brunt of the SNP's cuts - it is simply unacceptable.

"There are real concerns about patient care and increased risk of hospital acquired infections like C. diff, as staff struggle to cope."

The Tories' Nanette Milne claimed the figures told a "worrying story of the SNP's misuse of NHS money".

"When Scottish Conservatives became the first party in Scotland to back the protection of the health budget, it was to protect our vital our frontline services," she said.

"However, whereas we want to reduce management costs and redirect funds to those in the frontline of patient care, the SNP has been wasting money on gimmicks like free prescriptions for those who can already afford to pay."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alison McInnes, said: "The SNP have their priorities completely wrong - they are paying out £26m in consultant bonuses, but frontline staff across the country are being laid off."

However, Ms Sturgeon said the staffing reduction had been "much lower than projected" and stressed there were more doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives in Scotland now than at the start of the previous parliament.

Improving performance

"Over the last 12 months we have seen NHS boards deliver a planned reduction in the NHS workforce and the number of acute beds, while at the same time increasing activity and improving quality," she said.

"We now have the best waiting times performance and the lowest levels of healthcare associated infection on record.

"When taken together these indicators suggest that our approach to quality and efficiency is beginning to deliver positive changes in our health services."

Meanwhile, the latest figures on the number of people working in Scotland's public sector showed a fall of 11,600 in the past year.

There were a total of 575,600 workers in the first four months of 2011, a 2% decrease on the same period in 2010.

At the same time, the Scottish government said private sector employment went up by 52,000.

The figures excluded staff working for nationalised banks, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "In this constrained financial climate, the Scottish government is committed to reforming public services as well as improving performance and keeping a focus on the outcomes that matter to us all."

The figures came ahead of the findings of the government's commission on the future of public services, to be published on Wednesday.

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