Unfilled consultancy posts are nearly twice as high as official figures indicate, according to Scottish doctors.
Government statisticians put vacancies for expert medical posts at 6.5%, but the British Medical Association (BMA) calculates the figure at 11.3%.
Official data released yesterday shows the total number of consultancy posts increased by 6.7% from 4,585 to 4,891 in the 12 months until September 30.
The data follows the revelation that NHS Grampian spent nearly £4milion on locum doctors since May – around a 60% increase on last year.
The doctors’ organisation said the reason is that the official definition of a vacancy does not include posts that are not being advertised.
The calculation also does not reliably capture the use of locums to maintain services, it said, which is “costly and not a sustainable long-term solution”.
The BMA findings, based on freedom of information requests, have been shared with the Scottish Government.
Dr Nikki Thompson, BMA Scotland consultants committee chairwomen, said: “Although the number of consultant posts in Scotland has been slowly increasing, it is not keeping pace with patient need.
“The problem is further compounded in some key specialities by large numbers of unattractive vacancies, putting unsustainable pressure on those consultants who are in post.”
Labour public health spokesman Richard Simpson said: “Our NHS needs radical solutions to end the state of perpetual crisis management which has characterised it for the last few years.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are already working with the BMA on a range of issues related to recruitment and retention of staff and we are happy to go on doing so.
“Analysis of vacancy data, which is produced independently by ISD, can help inform that work.”