National Health Service waiting times for cancer patients in Scotland are continuing to come down, although the 95% target set by the government for January-March 2008 has not been achieved, according to the latest figures from Scotland’s Chief Statistician.

Nevertheless, the Scottish NHS recorded its best-ever performance in reducing cancer waiting times during the period, with 94.1% of patients being treated within two months of an urgent referral, up from 84.5% in January-March 2007.

Overall, the quarterly statistics reveal that 2,177 Scottish patients were treated within 62 days of urgent referral. If just 20 more had begun treatment within the timescale, the 95% target set for NHS Boards would have been achieved, says the government.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon described the results as Scotland’s best-ever and said they were “encouraging,” but called for “one last push” to hit the 95% target. “We can, and must, do more. This government inherited a long overdue target to bring down waiting times,” she added.

The Minister praised the Health Boards which, she said, had come “very close to meeting the demanding 62-day target which has proved particularly challenging for them. But I now want boards to make one last push which will enable us not only to meet the target but to sustain that level of service. In addition, we are currently updating our cancer strategy which will be published soon," she said.

The Scottish government has also published, for the first time, statistics on waiting times for childhood cancers and patients with acute leukaemia or breast cancer. These show that: - all children diagnosed with cancer last year began treatment within 31 days of urgent referral; - 99% of patients with acute leukaemia in 2007 began their treatment within 31 days; and - 83.2% of breast cancer patients began treatment within 31 days of diagnosis last year.

Ms Sturgeon said these figures were particularly encouraging, although further work was “clearly needed” to bring down breast cancer waits.

- The target for the maximum wait for all patients from urgent referral to treatment was set in 2001 and was originally due to be achieved by the end of 2005. The target was reduced in May 2006 to 95% of patients to allow for clinical exceptions.