Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Full scale of NHS waiting times crisis in north and north-east laid bare in new P&J project

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf standing in front of a map with a chart symbolising NHS waiting times in Scotland
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf says the NHS has suffered the "biggest shock of its 74 year existence" since the pandemic.

The dramatic scale of the north and north-east’s healthcare crisis is exposed in a landmark new project by DC Thomson’s data team showing NHS waiting times for key services soaring across the north.

A&E waiting times performance is rapidly getting worse in Grampian and patients are beginning to wait longer across the Highlands.

So-called trolley waits in hospital have reached lengths never seen before across the two health board regions.

Hundreds of patients have been forced to wait more than eight hours – and in some cases more than 12 hours –  in recent months.

Patients are also facing long waits for vital MRIs, colonoscopies and to access psychological therapies to treat conditions such as depression.

In Aberdeenshire and Highland, those seeking alcohol, drug and co-dependency treatment are struggling to be treated on time.

The extreme pressures have even forced NHS Grampian to urge the public to call 111 before going to A&E.

An ambulance at A&E Accident and Emergency, ARI, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly placed huge strain on the NHS.

Capacity has been hit and staff are forced out sick from the virus.

But the state of the service is leading to warnings the NHS is “fraying at the seams” across the north of Scotland.

And the Scottish Government is under more pressure to provide better support to under-pressure staff.

Now you can use our new waiting times trackers to help you understand the full strain on hospitals, GP surgeries and treatment centres.

Historic poor performance for Accident and Emergency waiting times in Scotland

A&E waiting times reached historic heights across most of Scotland with the worst ever weekly performance recorded in the week up to July 3.

NHS Grampian saw just 71.8% of patients within four hours at A&E in March – its worst ever monthly total.

The Scottish Government target is for 95% of all A&E patients to be admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours of arrival.

The number of patients seen on time started to fall dramatically in the pandemic summer of 2020, with only a very slight uptick in May.

In the north, NHS Highland is faring better than the Scottish average for waiting times.

But the health board has still fallen below target since May 2021 and reached its all time worst performance of 84.9% in May 2022, the latest data available.

More patients are having to wait longer than eight or 12 hours.

Grampian saw 648 patients (8.2%) wait more than eight hours for treatment in March – its worst performance to date.

In the same month, 178 patients (2.3%) were left waiting for more than 12 hours – also the health board’s worst performance on record.

Drug and alcohol pressure

The Scottish Government has been accused of failing to get to grips with a drugs death crisis in recent years.

More than a third (79%) of those seeking alcohol, drug and co-dependency treatment in Highland, were waiting more than three weeks towards the end of 2021.

In Aberdeenshire, almost a third (31%), or 139 people, were not seen within the three-week target, in that same period.

Mental health challenges

NHS Grampian faced a well-documented struggle to meet the Scottish Government waiting times targets for children who need to access mental health services.

But following the opening of Aberdeen’s new Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) facility in October 2019, the figures have drastically improved – a glimmer of positivity among alarming health data.

From a low of 26.79% in September 2017, the Scottish Government’s 90% target has been met consistently since September 2020 – with one exception.

Highland has largely fallen short of the 90% standard since late 2018.

The health board was given “enhanced support” to tackle “devastating” waiting times. 

What do health boards say about waiting times?

A doctor looking at results from a MRI scan

An NHS Highland spokesman said the health board apologised for long waits for children requiring mental health support.

He added: “Prior to Covid-19 we recognised investment was needed in the service, particularly in terms of capacity.

“We started to change the way services were delivered at the beginning of the pandemic and this adaptation has regrettably meant additional delays in waiting times.”

The spokesman continued: “We are aware of the pressures and distress long waiting times are causing young people and their families, and we apologise for this. We are working hard to improve access as quickly as possible.”

NHS Grampian acknowledged waits for MRI and colonoscopy are too long.

In January 2022, around half of patients were waiting more than six weeks for their MRI scan, with the number waiting more than six weeks being 1,917.

A spokesman for the Grampian health board said: “The team is working hard to reduce this number by running additional lists and seeking additional capacity.

“The demand for MRI does continue to grow and new MRI machines are being planned for Dr Gray’s Hospital and the Baird Family Hospital, to sustainably increase our capacity.

“Colonoscopy capacity is similarly challenged though on an improving trajectory.”

NHS waiting times in Scotland are ‘damning figures’

The SNP’s opponents said the figures uncover big problems.

Jamie Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “Across the north of Scotland, the NHS is fraying at the seams.”

Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said are working hard to “keep chaos at bay”.

Tory public health spokeswoman Tess White said the pandemic has “undoubtedly placed huge pressure on Scotland’s NHS”.

But she claimed “significant challenges” predated Covid.

How does Humza Yousaf respond?

Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, said the NHS has suffered the “biggest shock of its 74 year existence” over the past two years.

The SNP politician said Covid-related absences increased by 100% from June 7 to June 28 on top of planned leave and normal sickness absences.

On A&E pressures, he said Scotland still outperforms the rest of the UK and, despite the pressures, nearly two-thirds of patients are still being seen within the four-hour target.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.

He said a new “urgent and unscheduled care collaborative programme” will be supported by £50 mllion, helping to reduced A&E waiting times.

Another £40 million will be spent to clear children’s mental health backlogs by March 2023.

An extra £15 million will be given to local authorities to deliver locally based mental health and wellbeing support for five to 24-year-olds in their communities.

Mr Yousaf added: “We are also continuing to work directly with health boards with the poorest performance to ensure the 18-week waiting time standard is met.”

He said drug and alcohol treatment targets are being met nationally, but added: “We will of course continue to engage with and advise the areas that have not met the standard for this quarter.”

If you have been impacted by long waiting times and wish to share your story, please fill in the form below.

An error has occurred while loading your details. Please click the following link to try again - if the issue persists, please don't hesitate to contact us. Try again by refreshing the page.

This article is part of a series that aims to make data about waiting times and pressures on the NHS more accessible and easy to understand. You can view the rest of the series below.