Health chiefs have postponed the reinstatement of a specialist pain clinic in Moray for another two years.
NHS Grampian has apologised for the lack of progress on the issue at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin and insisted it was working hard to resolve the situation.
Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon, who had highlighted patients’ concerns, criticised the delay last night.
Many of her constituents had reported enduring long and often uncomfortable journeys to see pain specialists at alternative clinics in Aberdeen.
Mrs Scanlon said: “At the time I initially contacted the chief executive of NHS Grampian, I was told they hoped to have the service up and running in Elgin by the end of 2013.
“While I understand that there have been recruitment problems which mean the clinic could not be opened last year, I’m incredibly concerned that the date NHS Grampian are now working towards is 2016.
“This is an unacceptable timescale for the many patients in Moray who have to either suffer the long, painful journeys to Aberdeen or remain in Moray without the specialist care offered to other patients in Grampian.”
Mrs Scanlon has urged the board to consider alternative options in the interim, such as sending a specialist to Moray on a regular basis to treat those in most need.
“I plan to raise this further with the Scottish Government in an effort to see this much needed service reintroduced to Moray as soon as possible,” Mrs Scanlon.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “Our original aim was to reinstate a pain clinic at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin by the end of 2013, once we had a full complement of medical staff.
“The pain service currently has three pain consultants and has had a consultant vacancy since 2012 following a resignation.
“This post was filled in February 2013. However, the associate specialist then retired in April 2013, once again creating a vacant post.
“This post was advertised on two separate occasions last year but failed to attract any suitable candidates.
“The service is aware of trainees who may be interested in a consultant post in Grampian. However, they will not complete their training until 2016.”
The health board will re-advertise the post at the end of next year – unless it is made aware of interest from a suitable candidate willing to relocate to Grampian sooner.
The spokeswoman added: “We understand how frustrating and distressing it is for patients to travel between the Elgin area and Aberdeen, especially given the pain they are in, and we apologise for this.”