A HEALTH board has come under fire after it hired a specialist radiographer months before the long-awaited scanner she was hired to operate was up and running.

NHS Orkney is the only health board in Scotland that does not have its own CT scanner, with patients instead facing a trip to Aberdeen or occasionally Shetland to be examined using one of the devices. For non-emergency patients in the outer Orkney isle the trip can take three days due to poor transport links.

Following a long campaign the health board has committed to establishing a CT scanning service on the islands and a lead CT radiographer is already in post on a salary of up to £40,000 per year plus "distant islands allowance".

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However, building work to accommodate and install the new CT scanner, which creates more detailed images of internal organs, blood vessels and bones than a standard X-ray, has only just begun and is expected to take at least five months.

NHS Orkney said it was "vital" that the staff member was in post "to answer questions" while the work progressed. She is also providing cover for a vacant non-specialist post in the department, the health board said.

But Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon said it was "ludicrous" that everything but the scanner, which she said could save lives, was in place.

"The NHS is supposed to be about equal access for all patients to healthcare, regardless of where they live," she said. "For too long that has not been the case in Orkney, and patients are left in a totally unacceptable situation where they have to be helicoptered to Aberdeen, or get the overnight ferry there."

In 2008 the Scottish Government said that all rural general hospitals should have advanced imaging, such as CT scanning, available.