Hundreds of senior doctor posts are unfilled across Scotland, the Scottish Government’s own figures show.
Fife is short of dozens of permanent consultants, according to data released this week, meaning health bosses have to splash out on expensive temporary cover.
There were 345.5 whole-time equivalent (WTE) consultancy posts lying vacant across the country, which represents 6.4% of the required workforce, according to the figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
NHS Fife lagged behind the national average with 14.1% posts unfilled or 38.6 vacancies.
Tayside saw a rise in the number of unfilled posts from 19.5 to 29.0, but with a vacancy proportion of 5.7% is below the national average.
The Lib Dem’s health spokesman, Jim Hume MSP, is concerned by the September figures, which were revealed to this week in a written response from the Health Secretary.
“If health boards like NHS Fife are struggling to recruit and retain consultants, they will be forced to rely on more expensive options like locum doctors but these are just sticking plasters, barely covering up the problem,” he said.
“We need to know there is strategic long-term thinking from the Health Secretary to ensure this skills shortage does not get any worse.”
Health Secretary Shona Robinson said Scotland now has the “highest medical staffing levels ever, with record numbers of consultants”.
“The consultant vacancy rate since 2007/08 has reduced from 6.9% as at September 2007 to 6.4% as at September 2015,” she said.
“Any fluctuation in consultant vacancies is linked to our efforts to increase capacity by recruiting even more staff.”
An NHS Fife spokesman said the number of consultant vacancies had since dropped to 28.1 WTE in December thanks in part to targeted recruitment campaigns.
“In common with many other boards, NHS Fife has faced challenges in recruiting to consultant posts, however, significant inroads have been made in reducing these vacancies over the course of recent years,” she said.
She added the staffing levels are properly covered so patients “continue to receive the high standard of care they expect”.