Most of the posts lost were in administration, managerial and health support positions.
But the number of full-time doctors and nurses working has increased by about 5,500, figures from the NHS Information Centre revealed.
Despite the fall in headcount, the NHS still employs more than 279,000 more people than it did in 1997 – with 1,095,164 people in full-time posts.
Health minister Lord Hunt said: “This year’s workforce census shows that there has been an increase in clinical capacity despite a small reduction in the overall numbers working in the NHS.
“These figures show the NHS focus is now on strengthening front-line clinical capacity, through increases in productivity and skill mix.”
Steve Barnett, director of NHS Employers, the body responsible for workforce issues, said: “After several years of very significant growth we were anticipating a fall in overall staff numbers as the NHS workforce stabilises.
“It is important to remember that these figures represent posts taken out of the system rather than people made redundant.
“The number of actual redundancies in the NHS is small compared with the total number of posts that have been lost through vacancy freezes, reducing the use of agency and temporary staff, and redeploying staff.”