HOSPITALS in Scotland are short of more than 1600 nurses – the most since the summer of 2007 – figures have revealed.

NHS officials also said around 400 posts had been empty for more than three months in a package of workforce statistics.

The Scottish Tories said the growing number of gaps has coincided with disastrous waiting times results, widespread complaints and even the revelation that some health boards were abusing a patient coding loophole to massage results.

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Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said: "We urged the Scottish Government months ago to address the issue of vacancies, yet the problem has only worsened. At a time when so many people are struggling to get jobs, why is the NHS in Scotland not filling 1,600 vacancies?"

There have been small increases in the number of nurses and midwives working in Scotland in the past year but there are still 1800 fewer than in September 2009.

Theresa Fyffe, Scotland director of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We're obviously pleased to see that some health boards seem to have realised they've cut too many nursing posts and have stopped the decline of recent years. However, this is not happening across all health boards and we have ongoing concerns about the ability of our health service to deal with the huge demographic changes facing us and the increases in demand from an ageing population."

Health Secretary Alex Neil announced a new planning tool to ensure health boards have the right number of community nurses yesterday. He said: "The latest figures show an increase in the number of nurses and midwives across Scotland."