HEALTH Minister Shona Robison has rejected calls for a full judicial inquiry into a health board amid claims that it is stifling whistleblowers.

A letter signed by 36 senior clinicians at NHS Grampian urged the health board to reinstate two suspended Aberdeen Royal Infirmary surgeons, Professor Zyg Krukowski, a surgeon to the Queen, and his colleague, Dr. Wendy Craig.

Prof Krukowski has been suspended pending an investigation into "serious allegations", which have not been disclosed.

Their fellow doctors claim the health board punishes staff for whistleblowing and called on Ms Robison to intervene.

The letter states: "NHS Grampian has resorted to similar disciplinary action on previous occasions in relation to doctors raising legitimate clinical concerns which have resulted in major disruption to patient care and considerable cost to the public purse.

"For example a recent action against a group of consultants in Ophthalmology resulted in serious damage being inflicted on the department, with the loss of several outstanding staff members including the enforced retirement of the Professor of Ophthalmology.

"A Freedom of Information request to NHS Grampian has revealed that over two million pounds has been spent on locum fees and private treatment in the last three years as a direct consequence."

A Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) review released in December said problems with leadership and culture at the ARI were jeopardising care.

Responding to the doctors, Ms Robison said the current disciplinary process needed to "conclude without interference".

She added: "Legislation protects whistleblowers from suffering any detriment in relation to their employment position. NHS Scotland is leading work to develop an honest and open reporting culture, where all staff have the confidence to speak up without fear."

In a statement, NHS Grampian said: "We cannot - and will not - discuss matters involving individual members of staff.

"In light of this, we cannot comment on the factual accuracy of the contents of the letter.

It added that locum doctors were "a necessary expense for any health board".