SNP ministers have been accused of holding the “wrong priorities" after it was revealed at least £6.6 million has been spend on spin and communications for Scotland’s health boards.

Scottish Labour has labelled the public spending “exorbitant” and "appalling" after the bill was revealed in Freedom of Information requests.

The £6.6m total is likely to be an under-estimate as it does not take account of staff on high levels within their pay bandings as well as vacant roles.

Five Scottish health boards have a budget on communications and spin in excess of £500,000 – while NHS24, which has faced criticism for long waiting times and abandoned calls, has spent as least £430,000 on its 11 staff and three vacancies.

NHS National Service Scotland, which provides strategic support and advice to NHS Scotland has 25 employees in its corporate communications sector where there are almost 200 communications staff working across Scotland’s health services.

Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “It is appalling that over £6 million is being ploughed into an army of spin doctors while our health service is on its knees with spiralling A&E waits, ambulances queueing at emergency departments and a recruitment crisis which existed before the pandemic due to chronic underfunding by the SNP Government.

“Of course, it is essential that citizens are kept up to date with what is happening in their area, what services they can expect to access and any urgent changes to this but this level of investment in so-called communications is exorbitant.”

She added: “Indeed, in some cases, bosses of these departments are earning just shy of £100,000. This is unjustifiable when staff on the frontline are working long shifts but struggling to put food on the table during a cost-of-living crisis.

“This is a government with the wrong priorities. It is time we stripped back on the pen pushers and invested properly in the hard-working staff at the coal face who have faced pressures during the last two years unlike anything seen before by our NHS.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has spent £538,000 for its 13 communications staff, NHS Lanarkshire has spent at least £525,000 of 15 staff and NHS Lothian has used £451,000 of public money on 13 communications specialists.

Lee Neary, director of strategy, performance and service transformation, NHS National Services Scotland, said: “NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) has a statutory requirement to ensure the public and stakeholders are engaged in our work and this is led by our Marketing and Communications team.

"Communications provide essential support on issues such as vaccinations – activity that enabled Scotland to be the quickest vaccinated country in the UK and save many lives – and counter fraud services, which last year helped NHS Scotland achieve savings of £1.5million.

"Communications underpins our work in the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, the Covid-19 testing programme, digital and cyber security, and many transformational and digital innovation projects across health and care, which are designed to improve people’s health outcomes and help reduce costs.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.