Medical leaders have insisted consultants’ overtime payments are “not extortionate” as figures showed the bill in the Lothians increased by almost £1 million in just two years.
NHS Lothian paid out £2.1m pay to some doctors in 2015-16 compared to £1.3m in 2013-14, according to data revealed under Freedom of Information.
Across Scotland, health boards spent £20.92m last year, compared to £14.27m previously.
Two of Scotland’s 14 health boards did not respond, meaning that the overall total could be higher, as it was reported consultants could be paid £600 in overtime for four hours of work.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said the rise in payments must be tackled – but also stressed the overtime bill was only a “small fraction” of the £720m overall paid in consultants’ wages in Scotland.
Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the BMA in Scotland, said the increase in overtime was due to a lack of staff.
He said: “The issue for us is – and has been for some time – that there are not enough consultants to do the job, and that actually applies across all branches of medicine. There is a similar problem with general practice.
“The main figure that is being quoted is £600 for four hours’ work. That’s four hours of work, almost always at weekends or late into the night.
“That’s working out to about £85 an hour after tax and it seems to be that that is not at all extortionate for a group of the most highly-trained and most expert people we have in the country in the health service.”
Initiatives to cut hospital waiting times would also account for some of the rise in overtime payments, Dr Bennie said.
Ms Robison said there would be a “number of reasons” for the increase in overtime costs.
“Clearly we have some gaps in certain specialities which are hard to fill,” the Health Secretary said.
“Sometimes there are vacancies which take a while to fill and there are sickness and maternity issues to cover, so boards sometimes do have to use people on a short-term basis. I also think its important to put that in a bit of perspective in that the figure spent on consultant overtime payments does represent a small fraction of the overall cost of consultant staff.
“So, this represents a small amount, but clearly something we need to tackle and something we are determined to tackle.”
Jim Crombie, chief operating officer at NHS Lothian, said: “We are working hard to improve our internal capacity to allow us to maximise consultant productivity enabling us to have less reliance on overtime and waiting list initiatives.
“This in turn is helping us to improve patient access by offering appointments in the evening and weekends.”