The majority of North-East patients get the diagnostic scans they need within weeks, despite a national survey that suggests longer waits.

A study of hospitals by the Liberal Democrats found that thousands of patients faced long waits. One in five patients nationally waited more than a year for an MRI scan, which can detect cancers, heart conditions and brain tumours.

But the response from three North-East trusts contacted by The Northern Echo yesterday suggested that the region does not have major problems with diagnostic scanning.

Officials at the University Hospital of North Durham admitted that some patients with non-urgent problems can wait longer than six months.

Last month, Kevan Jones parliamentary candidate for North Durham, criticised arrangements that mean that some patients were waiting for up to 18 months.

He published a letter from trust officials which admitted that the Durham hospitals' MRI scanner was being under-used because of a Government initiative to send patients to a private scanner in the grounds of James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust said: "We don't have a problem with scans. The average wait for MRI or CT scans is about three weeks and we don't have any staffing problems." Patients at Darlington Memorial Hospital and Bishop Auckland General Hospital needing MRI scans were seen "very quickly - normally within a couple of weeks".

A spokesman for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust said patients faced a maximum wait of 13 weeks for MRI or CT scans, although orthopaedic patients at North Tees can wait up to 20 weeks.