The NHS in Scotland spent almost £4 million on hospitality for staff and visitors over the past three years, official figures show.

It prompted an angry reaction from Labour, who said the money should be going on nurses and midwives - hundreds of whom face the axe this year.

The Government said hospitality accounts for a “tiny fraction” of NHS spending and has not changed much over the last three years.

But the information, obtained by Labour under freedom of information laws, shows hospitality costs have gone up by almost 25% in the last three years from £1,076,044 in 2007-08 to £1,332,501 in 2009-10.

This is equivalent to the salary and employment costs of 50 nurses.

Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “I am astonished that Scottish health boards have spent nearly £4 million over the last three years on hospitality.

“I want to see the NHS using its resources to employ nurses and midwives, rather than entertaining people.

“As a result of the SNP’s budget cuts, the NHS is planning to cut 4,000 jobs this year including over 1,500 nurses.

“You can’t take this number of staff out of our hospitals without having a real impact on patient care.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest hospitality bill last year at £329,000. NHS Tayside spent £317,805 on hospitality and NHS Fife spent £269,824. Labour believe that these costs are unjustifiable.

“The money that is currently being spent on hospitality should be going on the front line,” Dr Simpson added.

“It could pay the annual salary and staff costs of 50 nurses. I am sure that most people would agree that this would be a far better use of resources.”

But a Government spokeswoman said: “Health board spending on hospitality has remained broadly similar prior to 2007 and represents a tiny fraction - around 0.01% - of NHS Scotland’s total budget of more than £11 billion in 2009/2010.

“Health boards must ensure they get best possible value for money for every pound they spend.

“Hospitality is typically limited to providing tea, coffee and sandwiches for lunch or evening meetings or at events where members of the public and health board volunteers are present.”