Cancer hit squads are to be sent into Scottish NHS boards to ensure that targets on waiting times are met.

Cancer hit squads are to be sent into Scottish NHS boards to ensure that targets on waiting times are met.

Health minister Andy Kerr said the new cancer performance support team - headed by a senior member of the health department's delivery group and a senior NHS clinician - would help boards drive forward improvements.

He revealed the move last week as the latest official figures showed that the NHS was failing to meet the 2005 cancer target of a maximum 62 days from urgent referral to treatment. Figures to the end of June 2006 showed that 79.2 per cent of patients were treated in the time frame - far short of the 95 per cent compliance target.

Mr Kerr said cancer waiting was proving a tough challenge. 'Quarterly performance has improved slightly and over the year there has undoubtedly been progress. But at 79.2 per cent overall, we are still falling significantly short of the target.'

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Highland and NHS Forth Valley will be the first boards to be visited by the hit squads. Other measures will include weekly monitoring to track patient progress through the system.

Other figures published on Tuesday showed the NHS was making good progress on meeting the 18-week target for outpatient and inpatient care, which comes into effect at the end of next year.

For the first time, information was published on waiting times for key diagnostic tests and on how long people had to wait in accident and emergency, ahead of targets which are also due to be met by the end of 2007.

Mr Kerr said: 'A year ahead of the target date 90 per cent of core A&E departments are meeting the four-hour target, with one-third of departments already above 98 per cent.'