Scotland’s hospitals have seen a 10 per cent increase in consultant vacancies in the last year with more than 250 posts lying empty for at least six months, new figures have shown.
Official data from the NHS revealed that at the end of September 2017 the whole time equivalent (WTE) of 430.5 consultant posts were unfilled - a drop from 476.4 in June but a rise of 10.4 per cent over the last 12 months.
These included 254.3 WTE consultant jobs that had been empty for a minimum of six months - an increase of 38.6 per cent from September 2016 when the total was 183.5.
Almost one in six (15.9 per cent) of all clinical radiology consultant posts were unfilled, with the figures showing 59.5 WTE posts empty at the end of September, with 45.4 of these having been vacant for at least six months.
The figures were included in the latest NHS workforce statistics for Scotland, which showed a record number of people employed across the health service.
At the end of September 2017, the WTE number of staff had risen to 139,492.1, the fifth year in a row it has increased.
However, the data revealed a slowdown in jobs growth in the NHS, falling from 1.8 per cent to 0.6 per cent over the period.
For consultants, jobs growth had “decreased significantly”, falling from 2.9% in September 2016 to 0.3 per cent a year later.
Overall, 7.7 per cent of all consultants’ jobs were vacant, with the figures from the end of September also showing a slight rise in the number of nursing and midwifery posts that were unfilled.
The vacancy rate for these increased from 4.3 per cent in September 2016 to 4.5 per cent 12 months later - meaning there were 2,789.2 WTE jobs without someone in post, including 826.9 WTE which had been empty for at least three months.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar claimed the “scale of unfilled posts in our health service is simply staggering”, with “over 400 consultant posts lying empty alongside nearly 3,000 nursing and midwifery posts unfilled”.
He added: “No wonder NHS staff feel overworked and undervalued - the support they should be getting simply isn’t there.
“It was Nicola Sturgeon as health secretary who slashed training posts for nurses and midwives, and cut funding for medical students. This failure lies at her door.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “NHS staffing in Scotland is at a new record high level and has increased by over 12,400 under this government.
“This has been backed by our record high investment in the NHS, supporting more doctors, nurses and midwives, and care workers looking after the people of Scotland.
“We’re taking firm action to ensure we recruit, develop and retain the next generation of health service workers.
“Just this week, Ucas figures showed the highest-ever number of acceptances to study nursing at Scottish universities, with an eight per cent increase compared to a three per cent decrease in England.
“In Scotland we have retained bursaries for our nursing and midwifery students as well as making sure their tuition is free - in contrast the UK Government has scrapped bursaries and brought in tuition fees for nursing students in England.
“To support our ambitions further we have increased nursing and midwifery intakes by 4.7 per cent this year - the fifth successive rise.”