Health bosses say plans are in hand to cut the marathon waits women in the far north are having to endure for gynaecological treatment.
Local health watchdogs have been highlighting the plight faced by some who are having to live with daily pain, with one woman having waited two years for a hysterectomy.
They claim the service has been in decline since the maternity unit at Caithness General in Wick was downgraded in November 2016.
And they have accused the health board of intending to centralise its gynaecological service in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, to the detriment of outlying areas.
While denying any such agenda, NHS Highland chief executive Pam Dudek concedes that waiting lists for gynaecology, as in other areas, have lengthened during the pandemic.
She pledged to apologise to patients who have been affected.
But she said plans have been drawn up to reduce waiting times by performing more operations in Caithness General, Dunbar Hospital in Thurso and Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie.
The health board has reinstated the regular clinics run by visiting consultants.
This, she said, would be for the benefit of patients from throughout the Highlands.
Mrs Dudek said: “Unfortunately, the gynaecological service, along with others, has been impacted by the pandemic and the availability of operating capacity and there has also been sickness absence in the consultant team.
“We are in the process of reviewing the job plan for all consultants and measures are in place to meet service demands across the NHS Highland sites.”
Mrs Dudek said that during the pandemic, the NHS has had to prioritise theatres for urgent and cancer patients, affecting other waiting times, and apologised for that.
In the meantime, Mrs Dudek said the health board has been advising primary care staff to refer urgent cases to its 24/7 on-call teams for any urgent queries, questions or concerns.
Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) claims many women are suffering both physically and mentally and believes the official waiting time figures significantly under-estimate the delays many are facing.
Secretary Maria Aitken said: “We were promised when the maternity unit was downgraded that gynaecology wouldn’t be affected but that is exactly what has happened.
“We are being contacted by women at their wit’s end who are telling us that they are in constant pain and that it is affecting their families, their work and their whole lives.
“They are telling us the uncertainty about when they are going to be seen is affecting their mental health and wellbeing.”