A leading nursing organisation has warned Scotland has "too few nurses" as new figures reveal the highest-ever levels of nursing and midwifery vacancies in the country's NHS.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said NHS staff have risen to "historically high levels" under the SNP but the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nurses were facing the reality of vacancies in the workforce with low morale and recruitment problems.

ISD Scotland figures show as of March 31 the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate was 4.5%, the highest ever reported, and 2,818.9 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts were empty, a 27.5% increase from March 2016.

The number of such posts vacant for three months or more is up 51.3% year on year to 670.6.

In the same period, the NHS spent £8.4 million more on nursing and midwifery bank and agency staff, paying out £166.5 million.

Consultant vacancies have also risen year on year from 6.5% to 7.4% and there are 415.7 vacancies, of which 203.4 have gone unfilled for more than three months, up 38.2 from 2016.

The total number of NHS Scotland staff has risen 0.7% year on year to 139,430 WTE.

RCN associate director Norman Provan warned "if there aren't the nurses, patients won't receive the care they need".

He said: "Today's figures reflect the challenge faced by Scotland's NHS. Across both acute and community settings, there are simply too few nurses.

"The Scottish Government can point to the increase in the number of nursing and midwifery staff, but the reality on the ground is that nurses wanting to do their very best for patients are too often coming up against the reality of vacancies in the workforce.

"Nursing morale is low and teams are struggling to recruit and retain the staff they need."

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said the "SNP workforce crisis is getting worse".

He added: "No wonder nurses are heckling Nicola Sturgeon at TV appearances. She stopped running the health service to run a referendum campaign and the problems are coming home to roost."

The Scottish Greens called for action on recruitment, saying the government is "simply not acting quickly enough", while the Liberal Democrats accused the government of being "in denial" about staffing failing to keep up with demand.

Ms Robison said part of the increase in vacancies is due to the creation of new posts in health boards.

She added: "Under this government, NHS staff numbers have risen to historically high levels, with more doctors and nursing staff now delivering care for the people of Scotland - including over 2,000 additional qualified nurses and midwives.

"We're committed to training and retaining our nursing staff, and earlier this year we confirmed a 4.7% increase in trainee nurses and midwives for 2017/18 - a fifth successive rise.

"We have also committed £450,000 over three years to reintroduce a national return to practice scheme."