Thousands of NHS nursing posts could be lost in the next two years, the shadow Health Secretary has warned. Labour’s Andy Burnham said the health service would lose 12,000 nurses while the Coalition was in power if the current rate of loss continued.

Mr Burnham said there was new evidence that NHS trusts were meeting the health service efficiency challenge by “crude cuts” to frontline staff. The NHS has been charged with making £20bn in efficiency savings by 2015.

Latest workforce data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a statutory statistics agency, shows that the overall number of qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors has decreased since May 2010 – despite a rise in recent months. The data, from November 2012, shows that 350,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors work in the health service in England – almost 4,000 fewer posts than in May 2010.

In August last year the figure dipped to 346,178 but has since risen again. Labour said that historically, September to November sees an uplift of newly qualified nurses entering the workforce.