MEDICAL staff shortages in Scotland’s health service are at their worst level since the SNP came to power 12 years ago, according to official figures.

Vacancy rates for both doctors and nurses in the three months to June this year were at their highest since September 2007.

NHS Scotland was short of more than 4000 nursery and midwifery staff and more than 500 medical and dental consultants.

More than half the consultant posts had lain vacant for more than half a year, with the overall vacancy rate rising to 8.8 per cent, up from 7.6% the previous year.

The British Medical Association Scotland said ministers had to “get real” about the scale of the crisis, saying: "The truth is simple - we just do not have enough doctors."

There were 140,327 whole-time equivalent (WTE) workers employed in the health service, with this total rising for the last seven years.

The vacancy rate for nurses and midwives increased to 6.3%, up from 5.3% in a year.

The 4,013 unfilled nursing and midwifery jobs had risen by 27.7% in three months.

READ MORE: Vacancies for doctors, nurses and midwives prompt claims of NHS 'workforce crisis'

Simon Barker, chairman of BMA Scotland's consultants committee, said: "We need serious steps in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice and show doctors they are valued.

"That means focused efforts on recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance, and reversing years of real-term pay cuts.

"The Scottish Government has instead chosen to rely on temporary and more expensive locum staff to plug gaps and shore up services.

"This is not a sustainable model for our NHS and it does not serve the people of Scotland well. I appeal to Scottish ministers to take this matter seriously, to address it urgently, before it's too late."

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said the SNP’s NHS workforce planning had been “dismal”.

He said: “The Nationalists cannot pretend 4000 missing nurses and 500 vacant consultant posts - in a country the size of Scotland - is anything other than a full-blown crisis.

“For years, Nicola Sturgeon has been warned about an ageing and expanding population, as well as a workforce who – on average – are edging ever-closer to retirement.

“Yet her government has done nothing, and now patients are suffering.

“This unacceptable position is also placing an intolerable burden on those NHS workers left behind, picking up an ever-increasing strain.

“Everyone knows the reason why the SNP government has been so negligent when it comes to workforce planning – its mind has been completely occupied by the break-up of Britain.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said the figures were “nothing short of dreadful”.

She said: “The workforce crisis in NHS Scotland is deepening, heaping pressure on to already overworked staff.

“The SNP government promised that things would get better for staff and patients under Jeane Freeman – it has only got worse.

“It is time for the Health Secretary to admit she has under-resourced our NHS and apologise to those patients and staff she has let down.”

READ MORE: Consultant vacancies hit record high - as psychiatrist shortage doubles in 4 years

LibDem health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Persistent vacancies across the NHS are making life difficult for diligent NHS staff and it’s affecting patient care.

“The SNP Government has made a mockery of NHS staffing and are still postponing the long-awaited workforce plan. The result has been increase upon increase in vacancies across the NHS with staff being forced to pick up the slack in under-resourced teams.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "NHS staffing has risen by almost 10% under this government to historically high levels and is projected to continue to rise in the coming years.

"Our NHS is built on the dedication and hard work of healthcare staff up and down the country.

"We recently passed our new safe staffing legislation to help plan and recruit our workforce to meet the changing health and care needs of the people of Scotland long into the future."

She added: "In contrast to the actions of the UK Government for the health service in England, we've protected free nursing and free midwifery tuition and not only kept their bursary but we are increasing it to £10,000 from next year."