The Labour Party has voiced concern about a sharp drop in the numbers of people being barred from working with vulnerable adults in care homes and hospitals.

The party said figures from the Disclosure and Barring Service showed the number of discretionary bans – issued where there has been suspicious conduct but no criminal offence or where an offence did not warrant an automatic ban – have fallen from 2,121 in 2009 to 441 last year.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that changes in the vetting regime introduced by the coalition government had created loopholes in the system that were putting vulnerable people at risk.

“These figures are shocking. We now know the terrible trauma caused by abusers like Jimmy Savile being given easy and unrestricted access to settings where he came into regular contact with children and vulnerable adults,” she said.

“Yet these figures show we have not learnt lessons from the past. The barring system is still not keeping safe those it is designed to protect.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We will not compromise when it comes to the safety of children and vulnerable adults. Anyone who commits a serious offence is automatically barred and that will not change.

“We changed the vetting and barring arrangements because the old system was disproportionate and excessive. It was preventing people from volunteering in a range of roles, including authors visiting schools to read to children.

“The current system strikes a better balance, no longer barring people from working due to irrelevant historic offences.”