NHS Scotland staffing numbers have increased slightly in a year but while vacancy rates for medical and dental consultants have fallen, those for nurses and midwives have risen to more than 2,400.
Sickness absence rates across Scotland’s health boards have risen to their highest figure in a decade at 5.39%, up from 5.20% in 2016/17, and the worst rate since the 5.55% in 2006/07.
Official NHS Scotland figures show staff were directly employed by NHS Scotland last year, up 0.2% from the previous year when taken as a whole-time equivalent to factor in part-time workers (WTE).
Staffing figures have risen for seven years in a row but the rate of growth has slowed.
The picture across Scotland’s health board varies, with six out of 14 reporting a decrease in staff at the September 30 census point compared to the same date in 2016.
The number of qualified midwifery and nursing staff in post was 43,267.5 WTE, up 15.7% year on year, but there were variations across the country with eight boards reporting falling numbers.
Vacancy rates for these roles also increased to 2,401.1 WTE, up from 4.8% to 5.3%.
The census found 5,357.5 WTE medical and dental consultants in post, up 3.2% on the previous year, while vacancy rates for these positions fell by 8.7% to 393.1 (6.8%) the lowest level since December 2016.
For these positions more than two thirds (65%) had been lying empty for six months more, while for the nursing and midwifery vacancies just over a third (36%) had not been filled for three months or longer.
The student intake for nursing and midwifery in 2017/18 rose to the highest for seven years at 3,471, up 6.3% on the previous year.
The census found the number of paramedics in post has also risen – up 5.6% to 1,468.5 WTE year on year – but the vacancy rate has increased to 3% from 1.8% last year, half of which had been lying empty for three months or more.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Persistent vacancies across the NHS are putting a huge strain on existing staff who are forced to shoulder more of the workload.
“This is a direct result of years of SNP mismanagement of workforce planning.
“As well as putting that right, the Health Secretary must give NHS staff the backup and resources they need to get the job done over winter.”
He called for an annual report on workforce planning to be published and a debate in parliament held on it.
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon accused the Scottish Government of having “failed to properly plan the workforce and support existing staff”.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the number of consultants, medical and dental staff are at a “record high” and around 2,600 nursing and midwifery training places would be created by 2021 as part of measures to boost the supply of these staff.
She added: “Under this government the number of qualified whole time equivalent nurses and midwives has increased by 5.5% and consultants have risen by 50.8%.
“The vacancy rates for consultants, nursing and midwifery and allied health professionals have all reduced over the last quarter.”