NHS Grampian has shelled out more than £7 million on private firms carrying out clinical procedures to help reduce waiting times at hospitals in the last three years.
The health board outsourced medics to work nights and weekends to treat patients in various departments, including general surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology and respiratory units.
Two private companies, Medinet and Tac, have been paid to treat more than 9,300 patients at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen Health Village and Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin in the last year.
They saw 3,000 more patients in 2018-19 than the previous year, at a cost of more than £2.5m.
It comes after new figures showed 4,500 day-case admission patients were waiting longer than 12 weeks for treatment last December.
Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West Alexander Burnett said: “It’s quite clear our NHS staff are at breaking point and the health board is having to bring in private companies to reduce the waiting list pressure.
“It’s positive NHS Grampian is trying to ease the situation but these figures show just how much the SNP government has abandoned both staff and patients and the effect it has on treatment outwith normal hours.
“The SNP government have sleepwalked into a staffing crisis and it’s clear NHS Grampian needs more support.”
The British Medical Association also urged the Scottish Government to deliver more funding for “under-resourced” health boards.
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Lewis Morrison said: “The NHS has to be properly resourced to ensure patients get appointments, tests and treatments in an appropriate timescale, and the use of private providers clearly indicates the NHS can’t currently meet all that need in-house, particularly when subjected to current waiting times targets.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “We only approach private providers for assistance when all NHS options have been exhausted.
“They provide us with additional capacity for a fixed term which enables us to clear waiting lists. How quickly patients will be seen will depend on the speciality involved and the nature of the patient’s condition.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We remain absolutely committed to keeping our NHS true to its founding principles – publicly-owned, publicly-operated, and free at the point of need, as clearly evidenced by our actions and decisions.
“The selective use of the independent sector by health boards to address specific short-term capacity issues represents only a fraction of the procedures carried out by the NHS. This is the case here with NHS Grampian.”