SCOTLAND’S health boards and the government department overseeing them are spending £8.5million a year on spin doctors while patients suffer unprecedented waits.

Figures obtained by Scottish Labour using Freedom of Information showed the bill for the country’s 14 regional and eight special NHS boards had also risen 13% in a year.

The party said the “eye-watering” numbers showed a focus on the “wrong priorities”.

The bill for health board communications officers rose from £6.6m to £7.5m last year as the NHS employed more than 180 whole-time equivalent staff in the field.

In addition, the Scottish Government’s health and social care department employed a further 37 WTE staff at a cost of just over £1m.

The figures are likely to be an under-estaimate as they use the lowest points on the pay bands of the staff involved, and some actual wages will be higher.

Two regional health boards had communication staff bills of more than £500,000 - NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde and NHS Lanarkshire.

Three special health boards also topped half a million pounds - NHS24, Health Improvement Scotland and NHS Education for Scotland.

The State Hospital at Carstairs had a communications bill of almost £118,000 for three staff members for a facility of 140 beds.

Despite there being fewer health board communications staff than at this time last year, the wage bill had increased by over £880,000, or 13%, according to the FoI data.

The average wage rise for individual NHS staff, including nurses, midwives, paramedics, allied health professionals, porters and others over the last year was 6.5%.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “It is absolutely disgraceful that over £8.5m is being ploughed into an army of spin doctors while our health service is on its knees.

“A&E waits continue to be high, one in seven Scots are on an NHS waiting list and there is a recruitment crisis on the frontline in our NHS. We don’t need more spin, we need proper investment in staff who are dealing with patients.

 “Of course, people need to know 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 outrageous.

“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 spinners and invested properly in the hard-working staff at the coal face who continue to support our NHS while being failed by the SNP.” 

Humza Yousaf, who was health secretary for almost two years before becoming First Minister, was yesterday asked in a TV interview about the record 780,000 patients currently on waiting lists in Scotland.

He told Sky News: "The pandemic was the biggest shock that hit our NHS in its almost 75-year existence,.

"In terms of the NHS here in Scotland, we stand on a record that shows that Scotland's A&E departments are the best performing for well over seven years.

"In fact, in the winter, that's just past, there was only one nation in the UK that didn't lose a single day to strikes and the NHS.

"That was Scotland, of course, while I was health secretary.

"And when it comes to those longest waits on the NHS, if you look at those people who've been waiting for over two years, we've made dramatic reductions when it's inpatients outpatients are indeed for those that are waiting for diagnostic tests.

"So there are challenges there for the NHS, I'm not going to pretend otherwise, bt that's undoubtedly been exacerbated by that global pandemic."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Allocation of resources is a matter for individual boards, although we expect this to be done in a proportionate way that is in the best interest of patients and staff. 

“While this represents a tiny fraction of the £19bn spent annually on health and care services, NHS communications teams do play a vital role in keeping the public informed about the provision of public health services, particularly as we continue our recovery from the pandemic.”