More than £16 million has been spent by NHS Grampian on private medical care in the last three years, new figures have revealed.
The bill for spending on private services saw Grampian spend £7.886 million in 2015/16, £4.067 million in 2016/17 and £4.261 million in 2017/18.
The figures contributed to a Scotland-wide bill of at least £130 million, according to data compiled by Scottish Labour using Freedom of Information legislation.
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Scottish Labour said the figures underlined the pressure on health boards to meet demand and waiting times and criticised the Scottish Government for overseeing a system that saw inadequately staffed NHS boards resort to expensive private providers.
NHS spend on private health care was obtained for all the country’s health boards except NHS Highland and NHS Lothian.
Of those health boards who produced statistics, Grampian was the third highest spender in the last three years, after NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (£53 million) and Lanarkshire (£17 million).
Around £62,000 was spent by NHS Western Isles, £1.23 million by Orkney and £593,000 by NHS Shetland.
Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Monica Lennon, said: “Health boards are already feeling the pressure because SNP ministers have failed to provide our hospitals with the right number of doctors and nurses – so they have to turn to expensive private providers to hit targets the government set them.
“The NHS is our most valued public service and taxpayers don’t want the health service used as a cash cow for private companies.
“The only way to cut this private spending is to ensure our health service has the staff it needs, with the time to deliver the care patients deserve.
“Scottish Labour is working with trade unions and health and social care partners on the action needed to end the staffing problems in our NHS for good.
“We need real change in health and social care and an NHS that is fit for the future.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “If we are not able to see patients in clinics or carry out electives procedures as quickly as we would like, we may consider offering patients treatment elsewhere, either in other NHS board facilities or via the private sector.
“The ability to offer this depends on the capacity available and appropriate funding.
“In some cases, very specialist treatment is only available privately and patients will be seen there. It is always our preference to see patients locally and in good time.”
Gerry O’Brien of NHS Orkney said: “In common with other boards, where we are not able to treat patients locally, in good time, we may offer them the option to be treated elsewhere.
“In addition we have a small number of patients who require specialised treatment that is not available on Orkney.”
The Scottish Government was asked to respond but had not done so at the time of going to press.