PATIENTS in NHS Highland will be transferred to Tayside or Grampian for some emergency radiology procedures from next month when the region's only full-time specialists step down.

The two interventional radiology consultants based at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness are leaving in mid-August. One is retiring and one has resigned.

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Interventional radiologists provide a wide range of treatments and are increasingly in demand.

They are often required to perform minimally invasive procedures to stop internal bleeding in patients who have suffered a haemorrhage or restoring blood flow in patients who lung has collapsed due to a massive pulmonary embolism.

In a letter to local MSP Edward Mountain, the chair of NHS Highland, David Alston, confirmed that there would be "no full time substantive consultant interventional radiologist based at Raigmore from the middle of August following a retiral and a resignation from the existing establishment of two consultants".

Mr Alston added: "Following discussions with colleagues in NHS Grampian and NHS Tayside there will be a formal arrangement in place for the transfer of patients in need of interventional radiology procedures on an emergency basis to one of these centres from mid-August."

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Mr Mountain, said: “I am deeply concerned that the Chair of NHS Highland has allowed this situation to occur where the Highlands are relying on the services of NHS Grampian and NHS Tayside for interventional radiology services in the case of emergencies.

“It is deeply unsatisfactory that due to staff shortages patients will have to go the extra distance to Aberdeen or Dundee for emergency interventional radiology treatment."

A spokesman for NHS Highland said the health board had hired a retired interventional radiologist on a part-time locum basis from October and was holding discussions with private agencies, Medacs and Synaptics, over the potential availability of regular locum interventional radiologists from the UK and abroad.

The spokesman added: "Since the Board meeting on May 29 2018, interviews were held and offers made to two overseas candidates for interventional radiology on a locum basis.

"Unfortunately one of the two overseas candidates has had to withdraw at this time. There are further interviews next month for another two substantive posts."

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Some interventional radiology cover would also be provided by sessional consultants who work part-time basis on temporary contracts.

NHS Highland currently has funding for 16 radiologist posts, made up of two based in Oban and 14 in Inverness - including the two interventional radiologist posts.

Currently 12 are filled on permanent staff contracts, with four vacancies in Inverness. Two of these vacancies - in general radiology and breast radiology - are currently being filled by long-term locums.

A non-European radiologist was appointed in January and is working towards achieving consultant status - expected to take 12 to 24 months of UK-based work. NHS Highland also employs two rotational registrars in training within its radiology department.

The loss of the two remaining interventional radiologists comes after Dr Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, expressed "grave concerns" above the workforce crisis in NHS Highland. She said an extra 20 radiologists were needed - in additional to the 16 posts currently - to provide a "safe and effective service".