Around a quarter of senior mental health roles in NHS boards are either vacant or filled by locum staff, according to research by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Of the 586 whole-time equivalent consultant psychiatrist roles in Scottish health boards, 162 had no full-time appointee late last year, data obtained using freedom of information legislation shows.

Among these vacancies, 117 were filled by locum staff.

The party received responses from 13 of Scotland’s 14 health boards, covering a period in late October and early November.

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said more psychiatrists should be trained, and the number of mental health practitioners in GP surgeries should be increased.

He said: “There is a dangerous staffing crisis within NHS mental health services, with vacancies at particularly high level in rural and remote parts of the country.

“A significant number of the most senior mental health roles are either lying empty or being filled on a temporary basis, carrying grave repercussions for both staff and patients.

“These vacancies will only add to the devastating waiting times that thousands of children and adults are already having to endure, while putting existing staff under further pressure and strain.

“The SNP Government has compounded this emergency by stripping £50 million from the mental health budget last winter, a reckless decision that was swiftly followed by (First Minister) Humza Yousaf breaking his personal commitment to clear waiting lists by the spring.”

Commenting on the research, Dr Pavan Srireddy of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland said: “These figures come as no surprise and are hugely concerning because they reflect a workforce in crisis.

“Services are desperately stretched and staffing gaps have a very real impact on patient safety, putting people’s lives at risk.

“Morale amongst mental health staff is at an all-time low and the announcement of further, disproportionate cuts is bitterly disappointing.

“We fear it will only increase burnout and drive even more staff away from specialist mental health services.”

Mental wellbeing minister Maree Todd said: “Under this Government, the mental health workforce has expanded significantly, with staffing numbers at a record high.

“More than £1.3 billion will support mental health services, with £290.2 million direct investment – more than double that in 2020/21 – enabling record numbers of staff to provide more varied support and services to a larger number of people than ever before.

“We’ve exceeded our commitment to fund over 800 additional mental health workers in A&E departments, GP practices, police custody suites, and prisons. We are taking steps to continue to grow the mental health workforce.

“We’re committed to improving mental health service provision in primary care settings and focus more on prevention and early intervention in the community, providing high-quality mental healthcare in general practice.”