ADVERTS have been placed for a temporary surgeon at Raigmore Hospital to meet its growing patient waiting list for orthopaedic procedures.
It follows a decision by surgeons, revealed in The Inverness Courier in Friday, to stop working overtime after years of putting in extra hours to cope with an increasing workload.
It means patients waiting for procedures such as hip and knee replacements now face a lengthy wait for treatment as NHS Highland is no longer meeting its nine-week target for out-patients to see a specialist.
A job advertisement has been placed on the national NHS website for a locum consultant in orthopaedics for a six month period initially.
The job carries a salary of £74,504 to £100,446 per annum and the closing date for applications is 3rd September.
The job will also be advertised in the British Medical Journal, which will be published in print form on Saturday.
NHS Highland says an appointment will be made as soon as a suitable candidate can be found.
Last week just over 250 patients, the majority of whom will be treated in Raigmore, were not expected to be seen within the target time, and this is set to increase to 545 patients in September unless a solution can be found.
As well as looking at locum cover and consultant's current working patterns, NHS Highland is also investigating whether to send people to the Golden Jubilee Hospital, near Glasgow, which specialises in reducing patient waiting times, but would incur additional expenditure.
"We have not referred patients to other areas as yet, but we are keeping this situation under constant review," said an NHS Highland spokeswoman.
Scottish Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon has described the escalating waiting list as unacceptable, while the Highland Senior Citizen Network has called on NHS Highland to tackle the situation head-on to reduce the number of people in daily discomfort, waiting for a procedure.
Sean Kelly, head of service orthopaedics, explained that while the Highlands has one of the most efficient orthopaedic services in Scotland, demand was in excess of capacity.
"The orthopaedics team has highlighted the need to plan a sustainable solution to meet this increased demand, whilst working within the European regulations," he said.
Health board chairman Garry Coutts added: "Finding a sustainable solution will be our objective. If it does mean having to look at other alternatives - patients going out of the area - that is going to be preferable if it leads to filling this gap."
Meanwhile, a new Admissions Lounge, on the first floor in Raigmore, is allowing patients to come in on the day of their planned surgery saving them an unnecessary overnight stay in hospital.
The lounge, which opened this month, is a pre-operative waiting area for patients who have a planned date for their operation.
Patients will be seen by nursing staff who will prepare them for their operation, including routine nursing observations such as taking blood pressure and, if required, giving any pre-operative medicines.
Patients will be told what ward they will be going to after surgery and a member of the surgical team will also see them before their operation.
Patients will also be contacted by phone two days before they are due to be admitted allowing a member of the nursing team to confirm admission details and also go through some pre-hospital checks.
The lounge is open Monday to Friday, from 7.30am to 7.30pm.