The NHS continues to miss key cancer waiting times, as new figures showed a third of patients in one health board area had to wait more than two months for treatment to get underway.

NHS data showed that from July to September 87.2% of all cancer patients across Scotland started their treatment within 62 days of being referred to hospital because it was suspected they had cancer.

That is a slight improvement from the previous three months, when the proportion was 86.9%, but it means that the standard of having 95% of patents begin treatment within two months has been missed again.

READ MORE: More than third of nurses 'looking for new job' amid workload and money stress

Health campaigners at Cancer Research UK said it was "hugely concerning" that the target was not being achieved - and suggested NHS staff could be offered "incentives" not to retire in a bid to improve performance.

Official figures showed that just three health boards in Scotland met the 62-day standard - NHS Borders, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and NHS Lanarkshire.

And in NHS Orkney only 66.7% of patients who were urgently referred began receiving help within the stated time.

The figures also showed less than three-quarters (74.1%) of urological cancer patients started their treatment within two months of being referred.

The aim of having 95% of people starting treatment within 62 days was not met for any of the 10 cancer types there are figures for - and in some areas performance worsened.

The figures for July to September showed 94.8% of breast cancer patients who had had a positive screen started receiving care in this period, down from 97.1% in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, 87.5% of women who were referred after cervical screening began treatment within 62 days, compared to 92.6% in March to June.

READ MORE: More than third of nurses 'looking for new job' amid workload and money stress

A target for having 95% of patients begin treatment within 31 days of a decision being made on how best to help them was also missed, according to the figures.

Figures for July to September showed 94.5% of cancer patients across Scotland started receiving treatment within a month of a decision being made, down slightly from 94.8% the previous quarter.

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK's head of external affairs in Scotland, said: "It's hugely concerning that these targets continue to be missed and cancer patients in Scotland suffer delays as a result. We need to see decisive action soon."

Mr McNie said the Scottish Government had recently established a new working group to try to ensure patients get the tests and treatment they need on time.

"We hope this group, alongside an ongoing review of cancer waiting times, will make bold recommendations for the future, including clear plans for how to tackle the staff shortages we know are contributing to some delays," he stated.

"This could mean additional training for some workers, as well as introducing incentives for skilled staff to remain in the NHS after retirement.

"Waiting for a diagnosis and treatment can be an anxious time so it's important these targets are met by increasing capacity in the NHS."

READ MORE: More than third of nurses 'looking for new job' amid workload and money stress

Janie Preston, Macmillan Cancer Support's head in Scotland, said while the latest figures showed a slight improvement against the 62-day target, they were "still worse than they were 10-years ago, which shows we have a long way to go".

She stated: "Waiting to start cancer treatment is an incredibly stressful time for most people.

"It's vital the reasons behind these delays are understood and tackled.

"Change in the NHS is tough and staff are working extremely hard, but better processes must be put in place if the ever growing number of people with cancer are to get timely treatment and the longer-term care and support they need."

READ MORE: More than third of nurses 'looking for new job' amid workload and money stress

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton also called for action, saying: "People will be appalled to learn that under the SNP Government this target for cancer treatment hasn't been met in five years.

"The importance of swift care couldn't be clearer. Early diagnosis coupled with prompt treatment saves lives."

He demanded: "The Health Secretary should work with each health board to publish new action plans for tackling these waits for cancer treatment, making it clear to patients how and when cancer targets will finally be met.

"For this to succeed however, SNP Government must also ensure NHS boards are provided with the resources they need to be able to turn this around."

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour's health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "It is absolutely shameful that more than 12% of cancer patients are missing the 62-day cancer referral to treatment target under the SNP.

"With just the three health boards meeting the target, the SNP has gone from creating a postcode lottery in our health service to ensuring that almost wherever patients are in the country, they won't get the treatment they are entitled to on time."

He added: "Cancer remains Scotland's biggest killer and these figures clearly show the SNP is failing patients, families and staff across Scotland."

READ MORE: More than third of nurses 'looking for new job' amid workload and money stress

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "While it's welcome that, once a decision to treat has been reached, patients in Scotland wait on average just six days for treatment, there are still some who are waiting too long for treatment.

"We're working to do more to bring down the number of patients waiting longer than the targets for treatment, including taking forward the formation of a new Ministerial Cancer Performance Delivery Group, to drive improvements.

"An early priority for the group is accelerating the roll-out of innovative early diagnostic measures, including a new bowel cancer screening test, ensuring patients with the highest clinical priority are seen quickly. I also announced an additional £1 million for the roll-out of new technology which would allow consultants to report on diagnostic scans taken anywhere in the country, along with £3 million to increase radiology training places - helping address short-falls in capacity and staffing in some areas.

"This is all underpinned by our Cancer Strategy, backed by £100 million investment. Through this we are aiming to improve every aspect of cancer services - prevention, quicker diagnosis, and better treatment. With the Delivery Group making good progress and reporting back in early 2018 with recommendations to enhance cancer diagnosis and treatment, I am confident that all these measures will drive up performance."