NHS Grampian spends £7.1m sending patients to private hospitals
NHS Grampian has spent £7.1m sending patients to private hospitals in the past two years, to meet strict waiting time targets.
The health board has sent more than 2,000 people to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee for operations since 2012.
NHS Grampian has struggled to recruit staff in recent years.
Figures released by the health board show that £3.1m was spent on private hospital bills during 2013/14.
This was down from £4m in 2012/13.
The board predict the private health bill will fall with the opening of two new operating theatres.
A spokeswoman said: "These figures relate to patients treated privately in order to meet their Treatment Time Guarantee.
"We are committed to meeting the 12-week target for all patients. Currently it is not always possible for us to do this within Grampian.
"There are protocols in place which allow for referral to other centres - both NHS and private."
She added: "We have invested £16m in new theatres at Woodend and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. These will improve our ability to treat patients, within waiting times, in the north east.
"Once these theatres are fully operational we would expect to see a reduction in our use of the private sector."
A spokesman for the Scottish government said the figures represented a "tiny fraction" of the patients being treated by NHS Grampian.
Consultants warned last month that patients' lives would be put at risk if vacant posts at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary were not filled urgently.