Up to 24,000 NHS staff could lose their jobs because of the cash crisis in the heath service, the Liberal Democrats claimed on Sunday.
More than 6,000 job losses have been confirmed so far as health trusts struggle to cope with deficits.
But Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said the redundancies only account for a quarter of NHS hospitals with budget deficits.
He accused the government of massively underestimating the scale of the problem.
“The government is refusing to come clean about the crisis that is afflicting the NHS,” Webb said.
“Every day brings further news of more job cuts which will undoubtedly affect front-line patient care. Staff morale and public confidence in the NHS will continue to crumble until ministers take action to reverse this trend.”
Webb said trusts were being forced to make short-term reductions to tackle difficulties that have built up over decades.
“What is needed is long-term planning in the NHS, not a series of short-term initiatives and sudden policy shifts which make sensible planning impossible,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health dismissed the Liberal Democrats’ comments, saying: “We would completely dispute these figures, which sound like a back-of-the-envelope calculation.”