An extra 100 consultant paediatricians must be trained and recruited in Scotland to cope with increasing demand, according to a report today which warns that shortages are putting young people's health "at significant risk".

Scotland's paediatric workforce is "on the brink of crisis" with increasing vacancy rates, a looming retirement timebomb and younger medics increasingly shifting away from full-time working, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warns.

It comes against a 30 per cent climb in emergency hospital admissions among children in Scotland, from just under 45,400 in 2012/13 to just over 59,000 in 2017/18.

Read more: Alarm raised over bacteria in water supply at Glasgow superhospital BEFORE it opened

The increase is being driven by a growing number of children surviving with complex conditions or suffering from multiple illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes and asthma, as well as long delays in diagnosis for autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

This is exacerbating rota gaps, with general paediatrics as a speciality grappling with "the greatest difference between demand and actual consultant numbers".

The report adds: "The level of paediatric admissions in some units mean that double rotas are increasingly required ie. two trainees in service at one time."

Long-standing difficulties in recruiting enough paediatric consultants to safely fill rotas eventually forced NHS Lothian to close its children's ward at St John's hospital in Livingston to inpatient admissions in June 2017.

Read more: Staff shortages at Livingston children's ward mean move to 24/7 care 'still unsafe' 

Initially a temporary measure for that summer, the closure has continued and the unit will not open again on a 24-hour basis until March 18 this year, but even then only on a four-day basis.

It expected to resume a normal service again from October.

The RCPCH said workforce planning in the past had been "incoherent and inconsistent" and that the shortfall in medical paediatric staffing across Scotland "is clearly seen in rates of rota gaps and vacancies which are higher than the UK overall".

The largest proportion of consultants in Scotland are aged 45-49, meaning "there may be a large number of consultants retiring at the same time" in around 15 to 20 years.

Growth in consultant numbers in Scotland has slowed and is now lagging behind the rest of the UK, said the report, with a 5% increase in consultant paediatricians in Scotland between 2015 and 2017, compared to 8.2% growth in England and 7.8% for the UK as a whole.

It noted that trainee paediatricians in the UK "increasingly wish to work less than full time" and that "this could lead to a dramatic fall in the whole time equivalent (WTE) workforce in Scotland unless there is an increase in the headcount of doctors in training".

Read more: St John's hospital paediatric unit to reopen to inpatients from March

The College recommends expanding the workforce by 82.5 WTE paediatric consultants, but adjusting for part-time working means this actually translates as a requirement for 100 extra doctors.

Professor Steve Turner, officer for Scotland at the RCPCH, said: “Tackling the shortage of paediatric doctors needs to be a priority.

"We know that unless more doctors are trained to be paediatricians today, the situation where paediatric wards are being closed will only get worse.

"The good news is that we know that Scottish doctors want to train in paediatrics in Scotland, and there are three young doctors applying for each job.

"We also know that doctors who train in Scotland become consultants in Scotland.

"However, the reality is that we are seeing vacancies and gaps in rotas across Scotland, especially in centres outside of the central belt.

"Our calculations suggest that at least 82 more consultant paediatricians need to be trained to meet demand.

“The need to increase trainee numbers in paediatrics has been recognised and we are grateful that eight additional posts will be available for 2019 – but this is a one-off 'sticking plaster' which does not address the underlying problem.

"I urge the Scottish Government, NHS Education Scotland, and the Scottish health boards to reflect on our findings and seriously consider how best to implement our recommendations as a matter of urgency.

"Failing to take the necessary steps now will be to the detriment of our children both today and in the future."

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary said: “These are truly shocking figures highlighting a terrifying lack of paediatric doctors.

“It’s extremely worrying that the SNP’s failure to ensure we have enough paediatricians could jeopardise the treatment and care of children.”

Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Monica Lennon said: "This expert report is a vitally important intervention that demands a serious response from the government.

"Our NHS is facing a workforce crisis, with not enough staff to deliver the care patients deserve - and people will be shocked to see that this extends to the care of our children.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The health of our children is paramount, that is why we have more than doubled the number of paediatric consultants under this government to 355, and increased the number of paediatric nurses by more than 40% in the last eight years.

"We have worked closely with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to agree the appropriate and sustainable paediatric trainee supply. As the report highlights, we have acknowledged the need to increase the number of paediatric trainees and have provided 18 additional posts approved since 2014, achieving a 100% fill rate in recent recruitment rounds.

"The report also points out that trainees want to train in Scotland where there is twice the UK average applicants for each available post.

"Work is under way to develop a comprehensive plan to help address some of the recruitment and retention challenges faced by our health and care sector.

"We have already published workforce plans covering the NHS, Primary Care and Social Care, and an integrated health and social care workforce plan will be published shortly. Of course the uncertainty around Brexit continues to pose a significant risk to recruitment in the NHS."