THE NHS continues to miss a range of key waiting time targets and emergency departments are busier than ever, official figures have revealed.

Hospitals are no closer to treating all patients who need procedures within 12 weeks even though it is two years since the SNP enshrined this in law.

A&Es are still missing the goal of dealing with 98 per cent of people within four hours and the number of patients they saw reached 142,622 this September - the highest figure for the month on record.

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the figures showed a system "creaking at the seams".

He said: "Average waits in A&E departments across the country have increased, more and more patients are waiting more than six weeks for key diagnostic tests and the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks between referral and treatment has gone up. Our NHS is going backwards on the SNP's watch."

Snapshot survey data showing how many patients are stuck in a hospital bed when they are well enough to go home was also released yesterday. This showed an increase in the number of delayed discharges of 106 per cent since last October. A total of 321 patients had been waiting more than four weeks to go home at the October 2014 census, compared with 156 in October 2013.

Delays obtaining care home places and care packages in the community are among the causes of this bed blocking.

The Herald's NHS Time for Action campaign is calling for a review of capacity in the NHS and the community and a plan to show how it needs to shift and expand to cope with the growing elderly population.

Councillor Peter Johnston, health and wellbeing spokesman for council body Cosla, said: "We will need to reflect on how we can build social care capacity to make the system work more effectively and this will require heavy investment over the next few years."

Shona Robison, Scotland's new Health Secretary, pledged to continue work to help improve the speed with which patients progress through hospitals.

She said: "Like A&E departments right across the UK, Scotland's NHS is facing the challenge of treating more people with more complex health issues, however we are continuing to work to support health boards to meet the 95 per cent standard as quickly as possible.

"I am clear that no patient should wait unnecessarily for treatment and, as the new health secretary, one of my key priorities will be to focus on improving the flow through hospitals.

"This will not only reduce the number of patients waiting to be discharged but also help to reduce pressure on our frontline services like A&E and planned operations."

However, Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Tory health spokesman, was sceptical. He said: "Every three months the Scottish Government pledges action on this, yet the statistics move in the other direction."

The waiting time figures were released by the Information Services Division of NHS Scotland. They showed the target to treat patients within 18 weeks of referral is being met with 90.1 per cent of people seen in time - although NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Grampian and NHS Lothian missed the goal. The number of patients who waited longer than 12 weeks between treatment being planned and delivered, contrary to the SNP's legal guarantee, was 2,222.

Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour's health spokesman, said: "The previous cabinet secretary for health stuck his head in the sand when it came to the pressures the NHS is facing. Addressing the real day-to-day problems in our NHS should be a top priority for the new Cabinet Secretary."