Thousands of patients in the north and north east are waiting longer than the six week target for eight key diagnostic tests which can pick up cancer and other diseases, it has emerged.
NHS data yesterday revealed NHS Grampian had the greatest proportion of patients missing the target of any Scottish health board (35.5%) for tests including endoscopies, colonscopies, scans and ultrasound.
NHS Highland was also among the highest, with 26.5% of patients missing the six week target. That figure is above the Scottish average of 18.4%.
Yesterday opposition politicians said the waits endured by patients were “unacceptable”as official figures revealed a host of other missed flagship targets.
Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, said: “It is worrying to hear that waiting times for these vital tests are worse in Grampian than anywhere else in Scotland.
“It should not be acceptable to wait months on end for tests, treatment or surgery.
“SNP Ministers could start by properly funding health boards like Grampian, which suffer some of the lowest per head spending anywhere in Scotland.
“More effort also needs to be made to recruit and retain staff.”
The data published by the NHS’s Information Services Division (ISD) referred to eight tests: upper endoscopy; lower endoscopy; colonscopy; cytoscopy; CT scans, MRI scans, barium studies and non-obstetric ultrasound.
Endoscopies allow doctors to examine the throat, stomach and colon, while colonscopies and cystoscopies investigate the bowel and bladder respectively.
Scans, barium studies and ultrasound are also used to pick up abnormalities.
In June this year, 16,212 patients waited more than six weeks across Scotland.
Of those, 3,863 were in Grampian and 1,067 were in Highland.
Since this time last year, the percentage missing the target in Grampian has increased from 19.8% to the current figure of 35.5%.
In Highland, the increase has been less pronounced – from 23.5% to 26.5%.
In Orkney, 38 patients waited more than six weeks – the equivalent of 24.7%.
None waited more than six weeks in Shetland, while there were 72 (27.7%) missing the target in the Western Isles.
Statistics published by the ISD also revealed NHS Grampian and NHS Highland are still missing the flagship 90% target for all patients to be treated within 18 weeks of referral.
Across Scotland, 79.2% of patients across Scotland were reported as being seen within 18 weeks.
Only four boards – Borders, Golden Jubilee Hospital, Orkney and the Western Isles – met the 90% target.
Of the 15 health boards, Grampian had the lowest proportion of patients meeting the target (70.7%), although this was an improvement on the 61.7% figure recorded in March this year.
NHS Highland performed slightly better with 79.4%, which was marginally above the Scottish average of 79.2%.
NHS Shetland just missed the 90% target, achieving 89.3%.
The Scottish Government’s legally binding Treatment Time Guarantee (TTG) was also missed in the north and north-east.
The TTG says patients must start to be treated within 12 weeks of the treatment being agreed.
In Scotland as a whole, 72.5% of patients met the TTG, but the figure falls to 59.0% for Grampian and 58.8% for Highland.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart said: “The SNP’s waiting time law is not worth the paper it was written on.
“Every time this law is broken, it leaves a patient in pain or distress as they wait to get the treatment they need and this is just not good enough.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said there had been a “significant improvement” in terms of the 18 week target.
But she added the board was “very aware” it was the “lowest achieving board”, saying it was due to longstanding issues in recruiting specialists.
The spokeswoman added that Grampian was committed to meeting targets.