Health Secretary Shona Robison has acknowledged failings at NHS Grampian on treatment times for chronic pain patients.
Details were provided in a written response to Scottish Conservative MSP Tom Mason, who raised the issue with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s questions in January.
Figures have shown, of 536 referrals to a pain clinic in Grampian, just 51 were seen for their first appointment within the 18-week target treatment time period.
Patients at the health board, which has the second worst waiting times for pain clinics in Scotland, face waiting times of 40 weeks to get an appointment.
In her letter, Ms Robison said: “With regards to waiting times for access to pain clinics, I am aware the pain service in NHS Grampian has been dealing with a significant rate of staff absence during the past year, which has reduced the number of clinics they were able to run.”
Mr Mason said: “The staffing problems experienced by the local health board are well-documented, but that will provide little comfort to those who are waiting to be seen.
“Many of the patients forced to wait up to 40 weeks or more will be in severe pain and discomfort.”
NHS Grampian was recently given £4.9 million by the Scottish Government to reduce waits in several areas, but it has been reported that just £35,000 of that was on chronic pain.
An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “The challenges we face in the chronic pain service across Grampian are well known, in particular around the difficulties in recruiting staff. “It is a very specialist field and we continue to provide the best service we can in the current circumstances.
“We seek to maintain a balance in service delivery to new and review patients both in terms of procedures and out-patients.
“Patients are prioritised on clinical need and if a patient’s condition changes their GP can alert the hospital.”
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said nationally almost three-quarters of patients referred to a pain clinic were seen within the 18-week standard.
She added: “I welcome this increase in performance on the previous quarter, but we will continue to work with relevant NHS Boards to improve performance.
“To support this we are also undertaking a programme of record investment and reform, backed by a health budget that will increase by almost £2 billion by the end of this parliament.”