NHS staff levels in Scotland dropped by almost 1,000 this year, it has been revealed.
Official figures show there were 168,051 people employed in the health service at the end of September, compared with 169,045 at the same time in 2009.
The number of nurses and midwives has declined by 548 to 68,133 in 2010. Nursing leaders said these results were "bad news for patients".
Theresa Fyffe, Director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said the figures show how the nursing workforce is being disproportionately targeted to balance the books.
"Of those posts lost from the NHS in the past year, two-thirds are in nursing and midwifery. Given that nurses provide the vast majority of patient care, this is bad news for patients," she said.
"As today's figures cover the first six months of this financial year, there is likely to be even more telling figures in the future that reveal the true extent of cuts to the NHS."
But, despite the latest figures, there are still 1,034 more nurses in Scotland than there were four years ago.
Overall, the number of medical staff has increased from 16,256 to 16,356 in the 12 months up to the end of September.
The number of GPs has crept up slightly by 18 to 4,960.
At the end of September this year, there were 11,887 doctors working in hospitals, community and public health services, up from 11,797.
At the same time there has been a drop in the number of administrative workers, with this declining from 31,073 to 30,778 - a fall of 295.
Ms Sturgeon said: "Since September 2006 the number of staff working in the NHS in Scotland has gone up by 9,529. There are 1,556 more doctors and dentists, 1,034 nurses and midwives and 323 more GPs."
Copyright © Press Association 2010
Royal College of Nursing
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