A nursing union has blasted the government's promise to protect the NHS from funding cuts as an "urban myth".
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has released figures showing that 26,841 posts in the UK health service have either been lost or are facing the axe.
It said posts would be cut through a combination of redundancy, recruitment freezes, jobs being downgraded and people not being replaced when they leave or retire.
The figures have been taken from board meeting papers of about 100 NHS trusts and and Freedom of Information requests.
The RCN said waiting lists for operations would rise as job losses mounted and the public "should be really concerned" about the impact of the cuts.
RCN Chief Executive Dr Peter Carter said the losses were occurring by "stealth", with evidence of redundancies and recruitment freezes being withheld by NHS trusts.
And he refused to rule out another scandal like the one at Stafford Hospital, which was partly blamed on low staff numbers.
Dr Carter said a huge range of NHS services would be affected by the cuts, despite government claims that health service spending is ring-fenced.
He said:"This is set against the urban myth that the NHS is being protected.
"The evidence we have gathered is quite clear: that is not the case."
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