A HEALTH trust in the north of Scotland has secured a deal to have its cardiac patients treated 250 miles away in Newcastle, it has emerged.

NHS Grampian confirmed a formal agreement on the treatment of heart patients facing surgery delays had been struck with the city's Freeman Hospital – but said the option has yet to be used.

In May the health board said it was unable to meet the Scottish Government's target 12-week timescale for all patients to be given planned surgery and had been forced to begin prioritising the most urgent cases.

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Replying to Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, who raised the issue of a constituent forced to wait three months for surgery, Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said NHS Grampian had a backlog of cardiac patients due to staffing difficulties.

She said that since mid-July the health board had been using theatre capacity at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank, with some patients undergoing surgery there carried out by NHS Grampian surgeons.

"The board have indicated they have also secured a service level agreement with Newcastle and this option has also been offered to patients," she added.

Mr Halcro Johnston, who represents the Highlands and Islands, said: "The fact a health board in the north of Scotland is now depending on hospitals in England to treat heart patients shows the depth of the staffing crisis in Scotland's NHS.

"Travelling to Newcastle for any patient in the Grampian area isn't convenient, but even less so for those with heart problems."

A spokesman for NHS Grampian said: "We are committed to ensuring patients are seen as quickly as possible which means, occasionally, people are offered the opportunity of surgery elsewhere during peaks in demand.

"We have well established links with Lothian and Glasgow and our agreement with Newcastle is a backup option which has not been utilised so far.

Ms Robison later added: "NHS Grampian is committed to making every effort to ensure that their patients have the opportunity to access high quality healthcare, and their agreement with the Freeman Hospital is an example of these efforts.

"However, this service in Newcastle is their third back-up option behind Lothian and Glasgow, and it has not yet been used by patients."