More than a third of cancelled operations in the Highlands last year were due to “capacity issues” at hospitals, it has been revealed.
Official figures show that 617 out of 1,811 postponed operations in the north health board area were due to non-medical reasons.
The 34% rate at NHS Highland was far higher than the 25% Scottish average, as was the 29% recorded by NHS Grampian in the period.
The data also shows that 359 operations were cancelled by NHS Highland for non-clinical reasons in the first three months of 2018.
Cracks in theatre walls at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness led to scores of operations being postponed in the period, while opposition MSPs also highlighted that there were more than 200 vacancies for key staff.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said 36 of the 68 cancellations at NHS Highland for capacity or non-clinical reasons in March were due to the weather.
Commenting on an overall rise in operations across Scotland compared to February, she added: “Severe weather and warnings not to travel did mean many staff could not get to hospital, and this level of disruption takes hospitals time to recover from.
“Despite that, on average 820 operations a day took place and feedback from boards has shown that the clear majority of cancellations for capacity or non-clinical reasons in March was due to the adverse weather.”
However, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: “The SNP have been underfunding our NHS for years and now patients are paying the price.
“The unfortunate reality is that because of a lack of long-term planning, over a third of elective surgeries have been cancelled, putting patients at risk.”
Labour Shadow Health Secretary Anas Sarwar said: “Behind each of these figures is a patient waiting in pain for treatment that hospitals have not been able to give.
“We have seen a staffing crisis develop in our health service, with huge unfilled gaps for consultants, nurses and midwives.
“This failure goes straight to the door of the health secretary. It is time for Shona Robison to step aside from the health portfolio.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Hardworking NHS staff are being pushed to breaking point but the health secretary has proven unable to deliver any respite.”