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 past 12 months.
These included 254.3 WTE consultant jobs that had been unfilled for a minimum period of six months, an increase of 38.6 per cent from September 2016 when the total was 183.5 jobs.
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 whole time equivalent (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 per cent 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.
Last month an Audit Scotland report suggested NHS bosses are deliberately avoiding filling vacant positions for up to a year in a bid to make savings. The public spending watchdog said the move was one of a range of ways that health boards could try to reduce their spending.
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”.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said NHS staffing was at a new record high level and had increased by more than 12,400 under the government. She said it was backed by “record investment” in the NHS.