Health Minister Simon Burns has insisted the NHS must make frontline services a "priority" as new figures were released by a union showing clinical staff accounting for half of planned job losses in the health service.
Mr Burns said a survey from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) showing that almost 40,000 NHS posts across the UK face being lost over the next three years "flies in the face" of Government workforce data showing a rise in the number of doctors and nurses.
He added that the Government has pledged a real-terms increase of £11.5 billion in spending over the next four years in the NHS.
"What is important and what the Government and the Department of Health have made quite plain to the NHS is that priority has got to be given to protecting and supporting frontline services," said Mr Burns.
"We are honouring our pledge for real-terms increases in funding, there is this £20 billion efficiency saving where every single penny has got to be reinvested in frontline services so that patients are at the heart of care."
Mr Burns said, for the 15 months up to the end of December last year, the number of nurses in the NHS increased by 2,677. Even in the last quarter of 2010 the number of nurses rose by just over 1,200, he said. He added that there was also an increase of around 3,000 more doctors.
His remarks come as Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive, said it was a "myth" that the Government was protecting the front line against cuts and said shedding staff could have "catastrophic consequences" for patient safety and care.
Dr Carter said: "Clinical staff are the lifeblood of the NHS and it is haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. Many trusts are not being transparent by admitting to the proportion of clinical jobs being lost."
He added: "Cutting thousands of frontline doctors and nurses could have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care. It's a myth that the NHS has been protected. People can play with figures as much as they like, these figures are real."
Dr Carter acknowledged there had been examples in the health service of poor standards of nursing care but added: "Is it because they are poor nurses or because they are working in systems that make good quality nursing care untenable?"