HEALTH Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced a set of "ambitious" targets in a bid to tackle NHS waiting times - including a pledge to end waits of two years or more for some patients within weeks.

The Scottish Government has set a target to end two-year waits for outpatient appointments in most specialities by the end of August.

It also hopes to eliminate waits of two years or more for inpatient or day case treatment in most specialities by the end of September this year.

NHS statistics show that at the end of March this year, 10,613 people had been waiting two years or more for help in hospital, either as an inpatient or on a day treatment basis.

Further figures from Public Health Scotland show at that time there were 2,831 patients who had been waiting 104 weeks or longer for an outpatient appointment.

Mr Yousaf said NHS waiting times had "grown as a result of the pandemic".

He added this is "why we now need to focus on treating these people that are waiting too long for treatment".

Speaking after a visit to Perth Royal Infirmary, he said the new targets are "some of the most ambitious" in the UK.

NHS England previously set target that, by July 2022, no one on its lists for elective treatment would have have been waiting longer than two years, but there are now concerns that the resurgence of Covid will derail the plan.

Waits in excess of a year for NHS elective care are supposed to be eliminated in England by March 2025.

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The Scottish Government has also pledged that all those who have been waiting over 18 months for an outpatient appointment in most specialities will be seen by the end of December.

In addition, by the end of March 2023 it is hoped NHS staff will have seen those waiting a year or more for an outpatient appointment in most specialities.

For those waiting 18 months or more for treatment - either as an inpatient or on a day case basis - they should be seen by the end of September 2023 It is then hoped that those who have been waiting a year or more will be seen by the end of September 2024.

Mr Yousaf said: "From speaking to patients and clinicians across the country, I know there is a physical and mental consequence in having to wait a long period to be treated, that is why addressing long waits is a key focus of our plans for NHS recovery."

Funding for the new drive to cut waiting times will come from the £1 billion allocated for the NHS under Covid Recovery Plan.

The initiative has been welcomed by Alastair Murray, chair of the Scottish Committee for Orthopaedics and Trauma.

He said: "Scottish orthopaedics very much welcomes the introduction of targets to address the growing number of people waiting for essential treatment.

"It is hoped that the targets set out will drive ongoing efforts to reduce waiting times for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland."

It came as Scotland's largest health board warned that its A&E services are "busier than ever".

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC) said 457 inpatients at hospitals across the region had tested positive for Covid in the last 28 days.

This compares to 277 cases in the 28 days to June 21.

Hospital occupancy across GGC has also hit 90.6%. Anything above 85% is considered unsafe. 

With one in 15 people in Scotland now infected with the virus, senior clinicians, including deputy medical director for acute services for NHSGGC Dr Scott Davidson, have warned members of the public to stay away from A&E unless their condition is very urgent or life-threatening.

"Our staff are working around the clock to make sure we continue to see the sickest patients coming to our A&Es but we're over capacity," Dr Davidson said.

"Services, quite frankly, are busier than ever, creating a bottleneck at the front door, and as a result patients unfortunately are having to wait long periods of time to be treated."

Patients have been urged to access unscheduled and emergency care through NHS inform, NHS 24 and their GPs and pharmacists instead.

"You might still face a wait to use these services, but for most people you'll be seen much faster than if you come to A&E," Dr Davidson said.

NHSGCC said strains on the health service are also down to more, sicker patients coming to A&E as a result of holding off during the height of previous spikes in cases and a current high level of staff absence due to Covid.

Dr Davidson added: "It's absolutely crucial for the public to help us now by really considering how they access urgent care.

"Do you need to come to A&E or could you be better served elsewhere?"