More than 3,000 NHS Grampian patients have been waiting six months for hospital treatment, according to new figures.
In the worst cases, 32 patients have been waiting more than two years for treatment, with the longest delay amounting to nearly three years – or 1,015 days.
The health board has said it is committed to waiting time targets – and stressed the most urgent cases are prioritised – but admits it faces significant staffing challenges.
Issues with hiring and retaining specialist staff – a picture that is replicated across the country – are particularly troublesome.
The Scottish Government has said that long waits for treatment are “unacceptable”.
North East Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles said he was “shocked” by the figures, which showed 3,045 patients currently seeking treatment had waited more than six months, a delay that is beyond the Scottish Government’s 12-week treatment time guarantee.
Grampian’s waits came to light in freedom of information (FOI) statistics which found that at least 12,275 patients had waited for more than six months since 2016-17 in Scotland.
Across the country, at least 76 patients waited more than a year before being seen in 2016-17, rising to 374 the following year.
At least 434 people in Scotland are languishing on a waiting list having been there for more than a year. According to the FOI data, in NHS Highland there were 956 patients currently waiting more than six months for treatment.
An NHS Highland spokesman said: “We are committed to improving our treatment time guarantee performance. We have made significant progress in a number of specialities but recognise there is still more work to be done.”
Mr Rumbles said: “I’m shocked that so many people are still waiting, sometimes years after being referred for treatment.
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“I have repeatedly asked the health minister to give NHS Grampian the resources it needs to get back on track but no matter how dire the situation gets it falls on deaf ears.
“Meanwhile, it is the patients and hardworking staff that suffer under this incompetent Scottish Government.”
The 12-week treatment time guarantee, introduced by Nicola Sturgeon when she was health secretary, states that eligible patients must start to receive that treatment within 12 weeks (84 days) of the treatment being agreed.
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “We are committed to meeting the waiting times targets laid down by the Scottish Government and acknowledge our current performance falls short of that. This is due to longstanding issues in recruiting for some specialist medical and nursing vacancies.
“Where we do not achieve the waiting standards set we actively manage the lists and ensure that patients are treated as soon as possible and in line with their clinical priority.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said its new £850 million waiting times improvement plan would help to tackle the issue.
She added: “We will continue to work with health boards to ensure this additional funding delivers the substantial and sustainable improvements needed.”