Doctors leaders have questioned how NHS Wales records vacancies after it was revealed there were just 134 unfilled medical and dental posts.
The figure, for May 2013, came to light after a Freedom of Information request by BMA Cymru Wales.
Of the 134 vacancies, 35 were in emergency medicine, nine were in general practice and 12 were in paediatrics.
BMA Welsh secretary Richard Lewis said the figures did not reflect the reality members faced on the frontline.
He said: ‘I don’t think the recruitment situation has improved that much in recent years – I think we are in a status quo situation.
‘It’s been made more difficult to understand the level of vacancies across NHS at all levels because there is a lack of consistency in what a “vacancy” is.
‘The current statistics that we have obtained from the Welsh government that were collected by health boards do not seem to correlate with our members’ understanding of what vacancies are like on the ground.
‘We believe there is a lot of leeway in the vacancy definition that allows health boards to interpret it differently and that makes analysis and interpretation very difficult. It also makes it very difficult for forward planning to address the shortages.
‘How is it helpful to base planning arrangements on inconsistently and poorly defined figures that do not really reflect how many vacancies there are? That’s just not sensible. We don’t believe that we are seeing the true picture here.’
Figures undermine reorganisation
Dr Lewis added that if the figure was correct it undermines one of the arguments justifying reorganisation of hospital services, namely that doctor shortages are one of the drivers for change.
The Welsh government has previously said reorganisation was needed to help recruitment.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: ‘Health boards and trusts across Wales are required to provide information about medical and dental vacancies to Welsh government on a monthly basis.
‘To ensure consistency these returns are based upon an agreed vacancy definition.
‘The driving force behind NHS Wales service change is the need to ensure safe and sustainable services for the future in the face of changing demands and an aging population, and it is vital we keep this goal in sight.’
Through a separate Freedom of Information request, it has also been revealed that staff and bed shortages contributed to more than 13,000 operations being cancelled in Wales over the last three years.