A record number of cancer patients in Scotland are being treated within two months, official statistics show.

The data said 96.5 per cent of all urgently referred patients are starting treatment within the two-month target time. This is the fifth quarter in a row that this has been achieved.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government is now introducing a more ambitious target of 95 per cent of urgently referred cancer patients being treated within 31 days of a decision being made to treat them.

“Today’s figures show that Scotland’s NHS has achieved its best-ever urgent cancer referral waiting times,” she said.

“Staff up and down the country are providing these important services within record times, and I thank every single one of them.”

The new figures cover the period October to December last year and show a 1.1 per cent rise in the rate of the two-month target being met on the same period in 2008 and 12 per cent higher than in the first quarter of 2007.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are now aiming even higher, with tougher new targets being introduced. From now on we will measure the NHS’s performance against the ambitious new target of having 95 per cent of patients treated within 31 days of decision to treat.”

The aim is to achieve the new target by December 2011.

“I know how hard staff have worked to achieve the current 62-day target and I am confident that they will maintain this progress in future,” she added.

All health boards except NHS Western Isles met the target for the last quarter of 2010.

However, the 95 per cent target was not achieved for all forms of cancer. Treatment within two months was achieved with 92.6 per cent of head and neck cancer patients, 93.8 per cent of ovarian and colorectal cancer patients and 94.7 per cent of lymphoma sufferers.