Waiting times for treatment on the NHS are set to be laid down in law, health secretary Andy Burnham has announced.

Targets for emergency cancer referrals and non-urgent treatment are to be turned into legal rights under the NHS constitution from 1 April.

Mr Burnham also pledged to work with Marie Curie Cancer Care on developing a right for people to die at home if they wished.

It came as the Tories called on the government to scrap targets, which shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said were forcing staff to “focus on ticking boxes not patients”.

Mr Burnham said a consultation on legal rights for patients had been supported by nine out of 10 people.

Patients will have the right to start treatment within 18 weeks of GP referral and to be seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer.

If this does not happen, the NHS will be legally obliged to take all reasonable steps to offer them a range of alternative providers.

The new rights will also entitle everyone aged 40-74 to an NHS health check every five years.

Mr Burnham said: “Patients and the public have shown their overwhelming support for locking in the progress that the NHS has made - by turning targets into rights, we are giving patients the power to demand the services they are entitled to.

“The positive response to this consultation confirms the support for an NHS constitution,” he added.