Labour has pledged to halve maximum waiting times to 18 weeks from referral to treatment by 2011. Its Scottish election manifesto, launched on Tuesday, also commits to cut waiting times to see physiotherapists, clinical psychologists and chiropodists to nine weeks.

The Scottish National Party, which leads in the polls ahead of Labour, which had most seats in the last Parliament, pledged last week to 'keep vital health services local' by introducing a presumption against centralisation of core hospital services.

In its manifesto, the Scottish Conservatives promised to review the controversial nurse-led telephone service NHS 24 and look at replacing it with local clinician-led units. The party pledged more patient choice and a tariff-based system to bring down waiting times.

A BBC poll asking voters to score potential priorities gave the highest approval to ensuring hospitals and schools were built through public bodies.

A policy of keeping local hospitals open, even if they cost more to run, was fourth, ahead of others covering areas including the police, tuition fees and road tolls.

The poll of 1,001 Scottish adults, conducted by ICM, ahead of the election on 3 May.