It is “impossible to justify” Scotland’s 22 health boards, Labour has said.

Labour Party health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie demanded the Scottish government make an immediate reduction in the number of boards, arguing such a move could help free money for frontline services.

Scotland has 14 regional health boards, providing services in different areas, along with eight special health boards, such as the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS Health Scotland, the State Hospitals Board for Scotland and NHS 24.

Labour said the eight special boards had a combined budget of more than £1.2bn.

Ms Baillie argued savings could be made by merging some, devolving some functions to regional health boards, or making them the responsibility of the Scottish government.

She said: “In tough financial times we need to make sure that our focus is on patient care and every penny is spent in the most efficient way.

“It is impossible to justify 22 separate health boards in a country the size of Scotland.”

She urged SNP ministers to use the upcoming Scottish budget to “announce an immediate reduction in the number of special boards, merging some and bringing others back into government or devolving the functions to area health boards”.

However, health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said there was already “good work” being done to make efficiencies.

She said: “In the toughest financial climate since devolution, all health boards will be expected to deliver services as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

“Already we have seen excellent examples of health boards taking advantage of service redesign, advances in technology and medical developments to deliver a more efficient service while improving the quality of care.

“We encourage that and want to see more innovative ways of working in the future.”

Ms Sturgeon went on: “There is good work going on around efficiency and productivity. I am confident that the health service will be able to live within its means and provide high-quality healthcare.”