The cost of employing bank and agency nursing staff in the Scottish NHS has fallen by more than £3m, official statistics show.

The use of bank nurses, employed by the NHS to work as needed, cost the health service £98.06m last year, down from £99.34m in 2008-09.

Agency nurses, employed by private firms, also went down from £10.39m to £8.18m over the same period. Six years ago the expenditure was £26m.

In total this saved the health service £3.14m in the past year.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are continuing to ensure NHS boards across Scotland scrutinise the quality and efficiency of absolutely everything they do. These figures show this is paying off.

“The downward trend in the costs of agency nursing is evidence of this, with the money saved retained by NHS boards and ploughed back into frontline patient care.”

The annual sickness absence rate in 2009-10 was 4.75%, down 0.2% on the previous year but still short of a health service target of 4%.

Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s comments after the recent announcement that 4,000 NHS jobs will be lost over the coming year, including at least 1,500 nursing posts.

“Patient care is already suffering with thousands of operations cancelled by hospitals because staff and resources are being overstretched,” she said.