Patients with cardiac conditions across the north-east have been forced to wait months to access life-saving technology because of 21 missing or broken heartbeat monitors.
NHS Grampian currently has a stock of 17 heartbeat-measuring monitors called Holter recorders – down from a total of 38 six years ago.
The portable gadgets, which cost around £1,800 each, are given to patients to wear on their chests for 24 hours to provide doctors with vital data which is then used to prescribe treatments for various illnesses.
But eight of the devices lent out to patients by NHS Grampian have never been returned, while a further 13 of the devices have broken due to component failure since 2012.
The dearth of monitors available has forced individuals with worries about their hearts to endure waiting times of around 27 weeks before their conditions can be assessed.
One such patient is a 68-year-old from Ellon, who returned to Aberdeen from a holiday in June last year with an irregular heart rhythm.
He said: “I was taken into accident and emergency and the doctor there requested a Holter monitor, which is a 24-hour monitoring device for an electrocardiogram (ECG).
“I was subsequently told there would be a seven-month waiting list to get one.
“I eventually had it in January this year. When I asked why it takes so long, I was told that people have them fitted and then don’t return them, so they just go missing.
“It’s a hell of a cost to the NHS and when inconsiderate people don’t return them it means somebody else can’t get a check.
“I’ve been told they have no way of recovering these and they can’t take people to court because it is too expensive.
“Now I’ve been told I need to have another check with a Holter monitor, but I’ve again heard I’ll need to wait about seven months.
“It’s just a ridiculous situation.”
The total value of the missing monitors is almost £15,000.
Jamie Weir, a retired NHS Grampian board member and spokesman for the patient care group PACT said the problem is only going to get worse in the future if the remaining devices are not handed back to the cash-strapped health board.
He said: “Patients have a responsibility to return Holter ECG monitors as failure to do so causes long delays in helping others who require these devices.
“The increasing age of the population is only going to make the situation worse if these devices are not returned because there is an increased requirement in the elderly.
“We also know that the clinicians find a seven-month waiting list unacceptable, and we would urge people to return these items.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said that in 2012, the waiting time for a Holter monitor was around four weeks, but a combination of the devices breaking and not being returned has resulted in much longer delays.
She said: “We currently have 17 Holter recorders available to issue to patients, compared to the 38 available in 2012.
“The reduction in the main has been due to component failure.
“However, eight devices – costing £1,800 each – have been issued to patients who have not returned them.
“When patients receive this device they are asked to sign for it, provide three means of contact and an appointment is made for device return.
“We have contacted these patients to ask for the devices to be returned – and we would ask them again to please return them.”
“The availability of these devices is impacting on waiting times, as this patient’s experience illustrates.
“We wish this patient well with his ongoing treatment.”