The former chief executive of NHS Grampian said he could not give timescales for when waiting times targets will be met.
Malcolm Wright, who retired on Friday from heading up the health board, added they are working “very closely” with new Health Secretary Jeane Freeman in a bid to “rapidly” improve the situation in the north-east.
New figures reveal just 66.9% of patients at NHS Grampian were reported as being seen within 18 weeks in June – the lowest in the country.
The health board is one of 10 that failed to meet the Scottish Government’s 90% standard and falls below the latest Scottish average of 82.8% for June.
Speaking on his last day on the job, Mr Wright said he was “not giving timescales” for when the 90% target could be met.
He added: “These targets are completely appropriate and it’s only right that we seek to meet them.
“I think if you are somebody who is needing an operation, be it a hip operation, a knee operation or a cataracts operation, if you don’t get that operation then it affects the quality of your life.
“So I think it’s only right that we seek to meet those targets and that’s what we’re doing. We’re working really closely with the Scottish Government to improve that and to improve that rapidly and I know from the new health secretary’s point of view that’s one of her top priority areas.
“We’re working very closely with her on that. I’m not giving timescales for it. I think the important thing is we seek to improve it.”
Back in September 2014, just before Mr Wright stepped into the role, the 18-week treatment time target was met in 87.6% of cases – a drop of 20.7% in four years.
The former chief executive, who will remain heading up NHS Tayside until the end of the year, said one of the “major challenges” has been recruiting and retaining staff, something they have worked “so hard” on.
Mr Wright also rejected fears the board could be left “rudderless” following his departure and that of chairman of the board, Dr Stephen Logan, who is also stepping down.
He said: “I don’t think there’s any danger of that at all.
“I think one of the things I’ve really found in NHS Grampian is the depth of the talent that we’ve got within this organisation.
“There are levels and levels of talent in the organisation that have been pulled through, and are being pulled through, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my time is to work with that talent.”
Among the challenges is attracting doctors and nurses to the area and improving the waiting times position, said the former chief executive.
He added: “We do have some particular challenges here and that’s why we’ve been working really hard with Aberdeen University and RGU to attract, recruit and retain the high standards of staff we can.”
Mr Wright first joined the NHS 43 years ago straight from school, beginning as an administrative trainee at NHS Lothian, where he also gained experience in portering and cleaning.
He worked his way up through the organisation over the past four decades and took over from former Grampian chief executive Richard Carey in October 2014.
The board lost its chairman, chief executive and medical director over the course of that year, with senior clinicians claiming medics were “exhausted” because of staff shortages, and consultants saying patients were being put at risk because key roles in the accident and emergency department were vacant.
Mr Wright said: “I think we’ve got a team of people who have helped turn things around and we’ve got a good quality health board here.
“The chairman, Steve Logan, I would like to pay tribute to him for his leadership of the board, as well as our non-executive colleagues. I think we’ve got a really strong executive team here so those changes I think people have noticed have been down to the leadership of the board and a strong team.”
Mr Wright will be replaced in the interim by Professor Amanda Croft in the role of chief executive until a permanent replacement is found.
He said: “Being asked to be the chief executive of any public organisation is a massive privilege, as is working with some 14,000 staff who are hugely professional, dedicated, caring and very committed to excellence in care.”