THOUSANDS of patients are facing longer waiting times for treatment despite a legally binding Scottish Government pledge guaranteeing they are treated within three months.

Ministers have been accused of failing patients and told they must match words with actions because no action has been taken against health boards that breached the law.

The number of people missing out on the 12 week pledge has rocketed by almost 90 per cent to 4499 - the worst figure since the legislation was launched.

Government officials have already been called before the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament to explain how they will enforce the law, with Convener Hugh Henry describing the situation as "a farce".

Earlier this year it was reported that Paul Gray, chief executive of NHS Scotland, had written to all health board leaders making it "very clear" they expect the guarantee to be delivered.

But new figures show performance has plunged dramatically since then. Through-out 2014 97 per cent of patients were treated in line with the law. This fell to 94.5 per cent during the first three months of this year.

The data was published along with other figures showing little improvement in a slump in waiting times performance in other areas, such as diagnostic testing, during the last year.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jenny Marra said it was clear to see the NHS was creaking under the strain of inadequate resources and patients were paying the price.

She added: "Nearly 5,000 Scots have waited longer for treatment than the SNP Government legally promised. Scottish Labour supports targets to drive better patient care and performance but this is a binding law that the SNP passed and are repeatedly breaking with no consequence."

Three health boards were responsible for 70per cent of the patients who waited too long, NHS Lothian, NHS Highland and NHS Grampian.

However, on occasion most health boards broke the law - which promises people will be given treatment such as operations within 12 weeks of that treatment plan being agreed.

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "People will be wondering what the point is of enshrining treatment times in law if nothing happens when they aren't met. With an increasing number of people failing to be treated within the legally binding treatment time, SNP ministers need to match their rhetoric with action.

"Otherwise patients and their families will feel let down by the SNP, who have taken their eye off the ball. Instead of signing NHS staff up to these grand commitments, SNP ministers should listen to frontline staff and come up with meaningful solutions to these complicated problems."

Shona Robison, Scottish Health Secretary, said a series of actions were being taken to cut waiting times for procedures, such as investing £1.5 in the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank which treats patients on waiting lists nationwide.

Ms Robison said: "Health boards across Scotland continue to deliver some of the lowest waiting times on record, with three quarters of a million patients treated within our 12 week treatment time guarantee since it was introduced in October 2012.

"However, last winter was extremely challenging for our health boards, and this government acknowledges that more must be done to maintain and improve on performance in order to meet the rightly demanding targets we have set. Patients should expect nothing less."

She also pointed out the new figures, released by the information arm of NHS Scotland, showed reductions in the number of people delayed in hospital beds waiting for community care.

Mr Hume dismissed this improvement as "marginal."

Ms Robison said £30m had been made available to health and social care partnerships to tackle issues such as delayed hospital discharges and described it as a "whole system approach" which will also help improve waiting times in other parts of the NHS, such as accident and emergency departments.