RADIOLOGIST shortages have been blamed for problems recruiting the highly specialised staff at a Highland hospital.

Concerns have been expressed by medical staff over the ability to fill outstanding consultant vacancies at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, with a local MSP claiming that some patients had spoken of having to wait longer for X-rays and scans.

In response to the letter from staff, NHS Highland said Scotland and the rest of the UK was suffering from shortage of radiologists.

The hospital’s associate medical doctor Dr Ken Macdonald told BBC Scotland that urgent steps were being taken to deal with the problem. However, he denied that any appointments were being cancelled.

Dr Macdonald said rising demand for radiology services in the region, with a 10 per cent rise per year for MRI and CT scans was one of the reasons.

He said this came against a “backdrop of a reduction in the number of consultant radiologists at Raigmore Hospital.”

Dr Macdonald added: “In the past 18 months we have developed three vacancies for consultant radiologists, and two of those have occurred in the last six months. That puts a bit of additional pressure on the service.

“This has to be seen against a backdrop of both a UK and Scottish shortage of radiologists.

“So we are not the only health board area in Scotland experiencing these difficulties.

“The underlying problem is the number of radiologist who are being trained hasn’t kept up with demand for radiology services.”

NHS Highland said it is looking to recruit radiologists who are still undergoing training to ease the workload for the consultants.

Dr Grant Baxter, of the Scottish committee of the Royal College of Radiologists, backed this view, adding: “The difficulties experienced by the huge shortage of radiologists in the Highlands is not just there but all over the whole of Scotland.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said that radiology departments were viewed as hidden away from public view, unlike GP shortages which are more likely to be visible in communities.

She added: “I don’t think the public was aware this [the shortages] was going on, therefore, not enough concern was raised soon enough.”

The country’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, called for new methods of working should be looked at to ensure a good quality service continues Ms Calderwood, who paid a visit to Raigmore earlier in the week, said: “We have to change some of the ways we are working if we are not going to able to have as many doctors as we did have because of recruitment issues.

“But there are very good solutions - technological solutions but that also involve the use of other staff, perhaps radiographers who can also report on X-rays.”

However, Raigmore officials insisted that the radiology service in the hospital remained “safe and effective”.