NHS Grampian 'cannot guarantee meeting surgery target'
NHS Grampian has said it cannot guarantee that patients will be given surgery within 12 weeks of diagnosis - unless it is an urgent case.
The health board admitted it was unable to meet the Scottish government's target timescale and has started classifying adult elective surgical patients according to their clinical need.
NHS Grampian has suffered from difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in several areas.
But it says the current approach is a "pragmatic" one while waits are longer than it would like.
A spokeswoman for the health board said: "Our first priority is to ensure the most urgent patients get treated promptly.
"Therefore we are in the process of implementing an elective classification system to ensure those patients waiting longer are those clinically most able to do so.
"The classification is clinically-led and covers all adult surgical services. We realise this will be disappointing news for those patients classed as able to wait longer.
"We remain committed to all Scottish government waiting times standards. This is a pragmatic interim solution to maintain safety whilst current waits are longer than we would like."
Health Secretary Shona Robison told BBC Radio Scotland the Scottish government was investing in health boards across the country to help them build their theatre capacity.
'Reducing agency spend'
Interviewed on Good Morning Scotland, she apologised to patients who have had a long wait for elective surgery.
"It's not ideal," she said. "We would want all patients to be seen in a timely fashion and I would apologise to anybody who is having to wait a bit longer than we would want them to wait.
"But I think it is important that the capacity that we do have is used to treat those patients who most urgently need to be treated.
"What the new investment will mean going forward is that we can make sure that everyone is treated in a timely fashion and we can get those who are waiting longer than they should seen as quickly as possible."
'No quick fix'
Ms Robison said NHS Grampian has struggled to recruit theatre nurses and it has had difficulties with theatre capacity, but the health board was working to address the problems.
"What they are doing is they're changing the whole way the theatres are operating to try and make sure that they can use the theatre capacity to the best of their ability," she said.
"They've managed to recruit a lot of new theatre nurses and they're using their capacity in a more efficient way and reducing their agency spend by recruiting nurses to substantial posts. So they are doing a lot of work to try and address some of these issues that they have."
Prof Jamie Weir, spokesman for the local Patient Action Coordination Team (PACT), told BBC Scotland: "I think it's very sad from the point of view of the patients.
"Not knowing is very difficult to cope with. And the staff do not want to be in this position, to have patients waiting, under stress and strain."
He added: "There is no quick fix."