FIGURES that would shed light on how long people with chronic pain are being forced to wait for specialist treatment are being kept secret from patients with the condition, the Scottish Government has admitted.

Members of Holyrood cross-party group on chronic pain has been campaigning for the release of the statistics for years, fearing lives are being put at risk by excessive waits, and had been promised data at its meeting this month.

However, patients and doctors were left furious after a representative for the Government turned up empty handed, despite admitting that statistics were available and had been seen by several people within the civil service.

Liz Porterfield, head of strategic planning and clinical priorities, said she was not able to provide the long-awaited figures as NHS statisticians, who she described as the Scottish health service's "guardians of data", had blocked their release with the support of a ministerial steering group chaired by SNP public health minister Maureen Watt over fears they were not "robust" enough.

The excuse was dismissed as "completely unacceptable" and "a joke" by campaigners, who have now agreed to submit Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to Scotland's 14 health boards in a bid to obtain the information for themselves.

Dorothy-Grace Elder, the former SNP MSP who set up the cross-party group in 2001, said there were "severe shortages" at what she described as "vital" pain clinics and hinted that she believed the statistics were being hidden as they would expose the unacceptable lengths of time patients are forced to wait. Last year, a report revealed that some with the condition, which affects almost one in five Scots, have been forced onto waiting lists for two years before they were seen by an expert. The condition is defined as pain which lasts for more than 12 weeks, despite treatment.

Ms Porterfield said: "I did commit to doing my best to get publishable data from the new data collection program for chronic pain waiting times by the month. I concede that. I also have tell you I have failed."

She said there was not certainty that all boards had applied the same criteria when submitting data to central databases, meaning the data may not have been as reliable as the statisticians and ministerial group would like.

Dr Richard Simpson, the Labour MSP, told Ms Porterfield: "I personally would rather see the data published from the boards you have got. This group has waited long enough, about two years ago this is what we were discussing and the time has come now to publish what we've got - with caveats or omissions."

Other doctors around the table said that they were more than qualified to judge how statistics should be interpreted. Ms Porterfield insisted the Government was committed to transparency on the issue, a claim that drew audible sighs from members of the group.

Following the meeting, Ms Elder said: "Speaking personally, I found it appalling that waiting list figures for chronic pain clinics are still being withheld, after firm promises for almost a year to reveal them this November to the Parliament's cross party group on chronic pain."

She added: "All Governments, including the previous Scottish Executive, are keen to show stats on anything when they're favourable. Improving relief of long term pain is a life or death matter for the worst pain levels, this meeting was not the first at which a patient was in tears mentioning suicidal thoughts."