The NHS had to spend around £75,000 a day on overtime over the past five years while pressure increased on doctors and nurses across the north and north-east.
We can reveal the scale of the extra wage bill as the health service becomes a focal point in the Scottish Parliament election.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon – who was health secretary during 2007-12 and First Minister from 2014 – promised to “protect” the service during a campaigning tour on Tuesday.
The SNP’s opponents say medics were already being stretched in a service with a “chronically chaotic” approach to workforce planning.
Overtime bills in NHS Grampian and NHS Highland show how the service paid for additional hours since the last Holyrood election.
NHS Grampian overtime increased from £13.3m in 2016-17 to £13.4m the following year, then to £14.3m and up to £14.7m in 2019-20. The figures for 2020-21 were incomplete but stood at £13m after 10 months.
In NHS Highland, the figures increased from £10.9m to £16.7m over the five-year period.
The staffing issues didn’t come from nowhere.”
Liberal Democrat Molly Nolan
The figure grew from £403,789 in to £646,730 in Orkney in five years, and increased from £241,143 to £371,870 in Shetland.
It increased from £1,089 to £1,593 over the same period in Western Isles. The island boards provided totals for 10 months of the past financial year, meaning the final annual sum will be higher.
Separate research from the Unite union last year suggested staff are under strain with most experiencing shortages and longer hours. The union said it was a “wake up call” for the Scottish Government.
Molly Nolan, the Lib Dem candidate in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said the spending is extraordinary.
“The staffing issues didn’t come from nowhere – when Nicola Sturgeon was health secretary, she cut hundreds of nursing and midwifery posts,” Ms Nolan said.
“With long shifts taking their toll on staff, we cannot afford the next parliament to be distracted by the arguments of the past. We must ensure health boards have the support and resources they need to deliver for patients and look after staff.”
Ms Nolan’s party manifesto calls for an NHS recovery plan with priority for mental health and extra counsellors.
Lib Dems, who obtained the overtime stats, called for an annual workforce report for debate in the Scottish Parliament, including a study of why any newly qualified staff leave the NHS in Scotland for work elsewhere.
Campaigning on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said a re-elected SNP government would take “immediate action” to remobilise the NHS.
The SNP made election commitments to deliver a pay rise for staff, open three cancer diagnosis centres and publish an NHS recovery plan to increase activity by 10% to deal with delays from the pandemic.
‘Pay rise for NHS staff’
Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s been a tough year for all of us, and our health and care staff have performed heroics in the most trying of circumstances.
“The next government has no time to waste in helping our health service get back on its feet – and if the SNP is re-elected on Thursday, we are ready to begin work immediately with a plan for a full-scale remobilisation of our NHS.
“Within just 100 days, we’ll have delivered a pay-rise for NHS workers, opened the first three fast-track cancer diagnostic centres and removed NHS dental charges for care experienced young people as the first step of removing them for everyone.
“And within 100 days we’ll publish an NHS Recovery Plan – detailing how we’ll support a 10% increase in inpatient, day patient and outpatient activity to address delays caused by the pandemic, accelerate recruitment of staff and implement our Cancer Recovery Plan.
“We will also lay the groundwork for vital longer-term reforms – including taking the first steps to establish a National Care Service, which will bring enormous improvements both for people receiving care and the staff who care for them.”
Polls show the election is finely balanced on whether the SNP will win an outright majority or fall short. Polling stations open on Thursday morning.