New figures showing that the NHS in Scotland is close to reaching its target for reducing hospital waiting times has been played down by statisticians.

Official figures released today show that 89.7 per cent of recorded patients were treated within 18 weeks.

This is just a fraction below the Scottish government`s pledge to deliver prompt treatment in 90 per cent of cases by the end of the year.

However, these figures did not include 34,000 patients, over a quarter of the total, whose journey from referral to treatment was not fully recorded because of outdated systems.

With nearly four months to go until the 31 December deadline, NHS boards are working to bring their systems up to date in order to record their performance against targets effectively.

In the meantime, statisticians have said: “Some caution should be exercised in using and interpreting these data at this early, developmental stage.”

An accompanying report to the figures says that until systems have improved the data should be considered “provisional”.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said NHS boards are working to bring their systems up to date in time for the December deadline.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “Upon reappointment to office I made it clear that there would be no let up in this government’s bid to drive down waiting times. These latest statistics show that the health service listened and are continuing to deliver on this pledge.

“Patients continue to tell me that prompt access to treatment, delivered as locally as possible, is one of their top priorities and that is why we are continuing to put such an emphasis on cutting waiting times.

“The delivery of the 18 weeks target is a big challenge for our NHS but the service has shown that it is fit for this challenge and I expect boards to continue to take sustained action to ensure that this promise to patients is delivered.”