RECORD numbers of patients in Scotland are waiting too long for hospital treatment and key diagnostic tests such as colonoscopies and MRI scans, new figures have shown.

The latest statistics, from ISD Scotland, also reveal that patients are facing vastly different waiting times depending on where they live.

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For example, as of December 31 2018, 694 people in NHS Borders had exceeded the six week target waiting for a key diagnostic test or scan - the highest on record for the region.

Only 61 per cent were being seen on time, compared to a Scotland average of 78%.

HeraldScotland:

Delays in the Borders were largely driven by long waits for radiology tests, but in neighbouring NHS Dumfries and Galloway only 29 patients had been waiting longer than six weeks, with the vast majority - nearly 98% - seen on time.

In Grampian, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran, roughly one in three patients were exceeding the 6-week wait, compared to one in four in Greater Glasgow and Clyde or the Highlands.

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Tests include CT and MRI scans, ultrasound, and colonoscopies - all essential for diagnosing potentially fatal conditions such as cancer.

Although there had been improvement from 49% to 66% of patients getting timely cystoscopies, which are used to diagnose bladder cancer, campaigners said the overall picture was worrying.

Gordon Matheson, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “These figures show a service under continued strain with too many patients still waiting too long for tests, some of which could detect cancer.

“With a welcome focus on screening and early detection of cancer, there’s an urgent need to comprehensively address workforce shortages.”

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The data also showed a year-on-year decline in performance against the Scottish Government's 12-week treatment time guarantee for inpatient and day case procedures, down from 80% to 72.7% of patients seen on time in the final quarter of 2018.

HeraldScotland:

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of doctors' trade union BMA Scotland, said: “Scotland’s NHS is under severe pressure.

"Our members tell us that on a daily basis and lengthening waiting times only serve to illustrate that.

“And there just isn’t a sustainable way to achieve the targets currently in place while there remain large gaps in an overstretched workforce and not enough resources to keep up with demand.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Miles Briggs said the figures were "deeply depressing and frustrating", while Scottish Labour shadow health secretary Monica Lennon said delays left patients "in pain or distress".

The Scottish Government has launched an £850 million Waiting Times Improvement Plan which Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said will speed up turnaround times and boost capacity.

She said: “This is on-going at the moment, and our aim is that, by Spring 2021, performance for outpatients waiting less than 12 weeks will be improved to 95%, and for inpatients and day cases under the treatment time guarantee it will be 100%."