MORE than £26 million was paid out in overtime to nurses and midwives last year – sparking claims staff shortages are putting Scotland's NHS under strain.

Health boards across the country shelled out an extra £500,000 a week to keep wards properly staffed, figures show.

It comes after nursing vacancies hit record levels last summer, with union leaders warning unfilled posts put patient care at risk.

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Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs accused the Scottish Government of mismanaging the health service.

He said: “Nurses already have a tough job without being roped in for overtime, and they should be commended for going the extra mile.

“But the sheer scale of the cost here exposes just how badly the SNP has planned the NHS workforce over recent years.

“It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Scotland’s population has increased and aged, yet the SNP government was caught flat-footed.

“Now health boards are having to shell out tens of millions in overtime payments just to plug the gaps.

“The SNP cannot blame anyone else for this. It is in sole charge of health, has been for more than a decade, and should have solved this problem long before now.”

Figures released to the Scottish Tories under Freedom of Information laws show Scotland’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, spent £8.8 million on nursing and midwifery overtime in 2016/17.

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Across the country, £2,538,293 was spent last year. This is less than the £27 million shelled out the year before, but almost £5m more than the nationwide total in 2014/15.

It comes as Scottish Labour launched a consultation aimed at “fixing the NHS staffing crisis”.

The party has written to charities and trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of patients and staff, in a bid to consult on the recruitment, retention and support of health workers.

Scottish Labour’s shadow health secretary Anas Sarwar insisted solving the “workforce crisis” would help address issues within the NHS and social care, while also preparing it for future problems – such as an ageing population.

He said: “It is a wide ranging consultation recognising the interdependency across many of our workforce sectors. We cannot simply consider nurse numbers in isolation to allied health professionals, or indeed social care workers in isolation from GPs.

“The NHS of the future is increasingly going to require support for staff from all disciplines to work more closely with each other – but to get there we must understand where and why current pressures and gaps exist.

“We recognise the complexity in the NHS workforce system and the many individual specialisms, but we also strongly recognise the need for collaboration to achieve the outcomes everyone desires.

“This year is the NHS’s 70th birthday, and only Labour is working to seriously examine the issues that have created this workforce crisis – and develop the blueprint we need to ensure our most cherished public service is fit for the next 70 years.”

But a spokesman for Health Secretary Shona Robison hit out at the “staggering hypocrisy from Labour and the Tories”.

He said: “The SNP has delivered all-time record high NHS spending and staffing, while Labour in office threatened to cut services the SNP then saved – and the Tories are doing huge damage to the NHS in England.

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“Labour have only now launched their so-called workforce consultation, after they promised almost exactly a year ago they would launch a commission within weeks. And the Tories have zero credibility given that their tax plans would leave a half-billion pound plus hole in the budget for the NHS and other key services.

“Unlike in England, we have also retained bursaries and free tuition for nursing and midwifery students. Annually, the NHS spends over £6.5 billion on staffing, and payments made for overtime – which is cheaper than paying expensive agencies and ensures money goes to NHS staff – represents less than 0.4 per cent of the overall staffing budget.”