Campaigners seeking a public inquiry into the actions of a disgraced surgeon held a mock funeral procession outside the Scottish Parliament.

In an increasingly heated exchange, new Health Secretary Neil Gray was told progress in appointing an inquiry chairperson has been too slow and more patients harmed by Professor Sam Eljamel will die waiting for answers.

Dozens of former patients and their family members held a vigil in Edinburgh on Wednesday afternoon, sitting behind a coffin and with a banner reading "You dither ... we die".

Mr Gray is the fifth health secretary to be appointed in the time the harmed patients campaign group, led by Eljamel victim Jules Rose, has been calling for an official probe into how the surgeon was allowed to continue to work for NHS Tayside despite a litany of medical errors.

Ms Rose said: "The Government is dithering and meanwhile time is running out. We are going to be dying by the time they appoint a chair.

"The patients are understandably angry, they're frustrated and in chronic pain.

"We want to get this action moving."

As Mr Gray - appointed following Michael Matheson's resignation over an £11,000 iPad bill - spoke to protesters, Karen Ogg, a former nurse scoffed at his insistence progress is being made.

Ms Ogg, who was given a botched spine operation, said: "You hope you're making progress - or you are making progress.

"Hope isn't damn good enough anymore."

Her remarks came after Mr Gray told those gathered he hopes a chairperson will be in place "in very short order".

Speaking to journalists after the protest, Mr Gray said: "I wanted to offer my support to the victims of Sam Eljamel to let them know that we are making progress on the establishment of a public inquiry as soon as possible.

READ MORE: Eljamel victims criticise Humza Yousaf for the pace of public inquiry

"I am hopeful that we can make a positive announcement in terms of the appointment of a chair in due course and I understand the need for answers in these cases because, as we are hearing so powerfully, people's lives have been ruined and we've lost lives in the interim and people deserve to have answers."

Prof Eljamel worked at NHS Tayside from 1995 until he was suspended in 2013, and the Patients' Action Group for Eljamel Public Inquiry estimates 172 people are known to have been harmed by him.

A public inquiry was announced by First Minister Humza Yousaf in September but lead campaigner Jules Rose - who was Prof Eljamel's final victim - said 166 days was too long to wait for any further timeline.

Ms Rose was diagnosed with a brain tumour - but Eljamel removed a healthy tear gland instead of the tumour.

Protesters carried a coffin to symbolise the victims of Prof Eljamel who will not live to see the completion of the inquiry or its subsequent recommendations.

Julie Ann Hall, from Kirkcaldy, had to give up her career as a hairdresser after being operated on by Eljamel in October 2009 in Dundee's Ninewells Hospital.

Ms Hall has stenosis of the spine and had been booked in for the insertion of an interspinous traction device but the surgeon - against her wishes - changed the operation the night before to a laminectomy.

The Herald:

She said: "I didn't want to go ahead with this procedure but I felt I had to."

When she came round from the operation Ms Hall discovered she had suffered a leak of spinal fluid because her spinal column had been punctured and nerves to her legs and feet had been severed.

Prior to the surgery she had been planning to start her own hairdressing business but instead had to give up her work.

She was bedbound for a month and initially, she said, Eljamel refused to carry out corrective surgery but eventually operated again, although there was no improvement to her condition.

Ms Hall said: "He just kept saying, 'You look ok,' which seemed a bit strange. Since then I've suffered a lot of pain and no feeling in my legs and feet, which is so strange."

She found out about the other patients around three years ago.

READ MORE: Eljamel campaigner Jules Rose claims NHS Tayside tried to 'silence her'

Ms Hall added: "I knew nothing about this - I was led to believe I was the only one.

"The health board had never even acknowledged there was an error.

"I have been told they cannot operate again due to the severity of the spine's condition. So I just need to get on with it - I've been left to just get on with it.

"I was given a few physio exercises and sent home."

While she says there has been "joy" in coming to know the other campaigners and having their support, the impact of finding out about the dozens of other victims has been "heart wrenching".

She said: "Jules is amazing - I don't know where she gets her strength from. She is unbeatable. She is always there for all of us - all of us - and there's a lot of us.

"I feel nothing towards Eljamel. I am just so mad. I am so annoyed and so angry. I am so mad not to see him and for him not to be involved in any of this.

"He was just never to be seen again.

"The public inquiry will make a huge, huge difference just to get everyone heard. There's a lot still to come out, we've just scraped the tip of the iceberg."

Prof Eljamel is now believed to be operating in Libya, with ministers previously hinting the disgraced surgeon could eventually be extradited back to Scotland.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said it was a "disgrace" that victims had to gather outside Holyrood for the fifth time.

He said: "Five months on, another new Health Secretary and there is still no date for the public inquiry to begin.

"People need answers, they have been so badly treated, first of all by Eljamel and then by NHS Tayside.

"I think it's hugely regretful and deeply disappointing that they've had to come back to parliament to get what they were promised."