Fife patients could be sent to Dundee or Edinburgh for vital hospital tests as a national shortage of consultants continues to bite.
NHS Fife chiefs have begun talks with colleagues in Tayside and the Lothians about the possibility of providing some services on a regional basis as it struggles to recruit consultant radiologists in particular.
Under the arrangement, patients would be offered the first available appointment whether it is in Fife or in a neighbouring region.
The discussions, which also involve the Scottish Government, are said to be of paramount importance as the high number of vacancies lead to longer waiting times, backlogs of patients and breaches of government targets.
NHS Fife medical director Frances Elliot said: “There are problems around radiology.
“We can’t recruit and are in discussions around how we could find regional solutions if we find services in Fife are not as sustainable as we would like them.”
Fife is currently short of eight radiologists, affecting people in need of CT, MRI and non-obstetric ultrasound scans, as well as colonoscopy, endoscopy and other tests.
In June alone, 316 patients faced an anxious wait of more than six weeks for an ultrasound and four for an MRI.
The pressure is likely to continue into next year, the board has said.
If the current talks prove fruitful, radiology services would be shared with NHS Tayside, which has 30 consultant radiologists compared to just nine in Fife.
Urology has faced similar problems, although three new consultants have recently been recruited and the backlog is said to be reducing.
Discussions are continuing with NHS Lothian however, as high vacancy rates hit boards across the UK.
Dr Elliot said Fife suffered from being a small board sandwiched between two larger ones where there are more opportunities to specialise and less weekend working.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and Fife MSP Alex Rowley said he welcomed any collaboration between different health boards if it reduced waiting times for patients.
But he insisted consultants should be brought into Fife for clinics rather than forcing patients to face long journeys for tests and treatments.
“That’s something I’ve been calling for,” he said.
“If you look at the number of consultants we have in Fife, there are massive shortages, then look at the cities who have a more than adequate number of consultants.
“I welcome the fact they are looking at how to get access to consultants in cities where they don’t have the same shortages as we do.”