SCOTTISH ministers are to stand by a law that guarantees NHS patients a right to prompt treatment, despite a soaring number of breaches leading to accusations that it had become a farce.

Figures released this week revealed that between October and December, 2,300 patients received operations after waiting longer than the 12 week period written into law. In December alone, another 1,800 patients were stuck on waiting lists having been there for longer than the time legally allowed.

The number of patients waiting more than 12 weeks has increased steadily since the flagship SNP legislation was introduced in 2012, before hitting record levels this winter.

In response to the latest figures, BMA Scotland said that legally-binding guarantees of treatment should never have been put onto the statute book while Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw branded the law a "charade" and said it should be scrapped.

However, a spokesman for the First Minister denied that the law was "completely meaningless", saying that it "means that there is an incentive to do better." He added: "If and when we fall short of that, it's still important to have it there. Is scrapping it a good idea? No."

When asked if there was a chance of increasing the legal guarantee period to give health boards a better chance of meeting it, the spokesman replied: "that's not where we're at".

The exchange came after Nicola Sturgeon came under pressure from Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale at First Minister's Questions over the NHS. Ms Dugdale cited statements from a series of NHS professionals who had raised concern over the health service, including Colin Howie, president of the British Orthopaedic Association, who warned this week of a bed crisis and an increased reliance on sending patients to private hospitals.

The Labour MSP said: "We learned this week that the most vulnerable Scots are being let down by the SNP Government. Young Scots with mental health problems are waiting over six months to get the treatment they so desperately need. Whether you are visiting A&E, waiting to get a hospital bed or planning for an operation, there are problems all across our NHS."

The First Minister said that performance had improved compared to when the health service was run by a Labour-led administration at Holyrood eight years ago.

She added: "The NHS is performing now much better against tougher targets, and in the face of rising demand. For Labour to deny that doesn't do a disservice to this Government, it does an enormous disservice to the thousands of frontline staff who have worked so hard in our NHS to deliver these improvements."