The number of people working in the NHS fell by 11,000 in the last quarter of 2006, official figures reveal.
Jobs have been lost across the NHS
Health unions said the loss across the UK, revealed in Office for National Statistics, would "inevitably have a negative impact on patient care".
James Johnson, head of the British Medical Association said NHS trusts were under pressure to balance their books, leading to posts being cut.
And nurses' leaders warned workforce cuts would damage patient care.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), added: "These alarming figures confirm what the RCN has long been warning - that deficits are leading to serious cuts in the NHS workforce.
"This can only have a damaging impact on patients and services. That's why we are urging the government to work with us to replace short-term cuts with a long-term recovery plan."
Mr Johnson added: "This is devastating for the staff who are made redundant and demoralising for those who are left to cover the work.
"Although the majority of job losses are non-medical, they will inevitably have a negative impact on patient care."
A Department of Health spokesman said the figure was a projected estimate which covered the whole of the UK.
"We must get this in context, there are 1.36 million staff working in the NHS, and since 1997 the workforce has increased by 306,702.
"Between September 2004 and 2005 the NHS workforce increased by 34,301.
"Where workforce reductions are taking place, trusts are managing through natural wastage, vacancy freezes and redeploying staff in different ways and we are now moving away from annual growth in the NHS workforce to a steady state, where there is a closer match between affordable demand and supply."
However, Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: "What's demoralising for NHS staff is that the incompetence and mismanagement of this Labour Government has meant that after additional investment expanded staffing numbers in the NHS, financial deficits now mean hospitals are cutting back on the number of jobs.
"The loss of posts directly contributes to the fact that nurses, physiotherapists and others leaving college cannot find jobs."