Tayside is bearing the brunt of a national shortage of psychiatrists, new figures reveal.
One in five vacancies in Scotland for consultant psychiatrists is in Tayside, with 10.9 posts unfilled in the health area, according to NHS data.
That comes as the number of unfilled positions in the field across Scotland has quadrupled in five years.
The Scottish Conservatives say the vacancies “pose serious questions” about NHS Tayside’s ability to handle the number of patients with mental health problems.
The health board says they are recruiting and well-trained locums are plugging any gaps.
Some 17% of consultant psychiatrist positions are unfilled in Tayside – the equivalent of 10.9 posts, five of which have been vacant for at least six months.
Only the more populous Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board has a higher number of vacancies. Fife has one of the lowest, with just 1.6 posts unfilled.
Scottish Conservative Liam Kerr, a North East MSP, said the figures are an indictment of the SNP’s failed approach to the NHS.
“To have more than 10 posts left vacant poses serious questions about the ability of NHS Tayside to effectively manage the workload in this area,” he said.
“This type of staffing shortage also places an undue burden on those who are in post.”
Nationally, there are 55.5 vacancies, according to the latest NHS workforce figures from June, compared with 14 in 2011.
Five years ago there were no psychiatrist vacancies in Tayside, although the consultant workforce has increased by four since then.
Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said this is “latest example of the SNP’s mismanagement of workforce planning in our NHS”.
A Fife-trained doctor told The Courier said that many young medics were put off psychiatry partly by workload issues brought on by staffing shortages.
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said there is a national shortage of consultant psychiatrists but they are looking across the UK and abroad for potential recruits.
“Whilst this process is ongoing we have ensured continuity of medical care within mental health services by employing suitably trained locum consultants,” she added.
Maureen Watt, the mental health minister, said the SNP administration has increased spending in mental health by 40% between 2006/07 and 2014/15.
She added: “The number of psychiatric consultants working within NHS Tayside has increased by 42.6% under this government, to 51.9 whole time equivalent.
“Fluctuations in consultant vacancies is linked to our efforts to expand capacity by recruiting even more staff.”