Waiting times: the basics

A waiting time is the time it takes for a patient to receive treatment after being referred to hospital.

NHS Scotland uses waiting times to help:

  • reduce patient anxiety
  • improve the quality of life of patients
  • improve the clinical outcomes
  • improve the timeliness of treatment

Emergency treatment

Waiting times do not apply to patients that need emergency treatment. If you're assessed as needing emergency treatment you will be seen within the 4 hour target window, 95% of people should be discharged or transferred within 4 hours.

Length of wait

The length of time a patient will wait depends on the nature and complexity of their condition and how easy it is to diagnose.

Find out how diagnosis can affect waiting times

How waiting times work

A waiting time consists of a series of standards that set the maximum amount of time a patient will wait at each stage in the referral to treatment process.

These standards relate to acute hospital care such as for hip or knee surgery or cataract removal. There are other Scottish Government waiting times standards for other areas of care such as cancer.

Waiting times standards

The current waiting times standards are:

  • 18 weeks Referral to Treatment Standard
  • 12 weeks for new outpatient appointments
  • 6 weeks for the eight key diagnostic tests and investigations

These standards represent the upper limit of how long a patient should expect to wait, the vast majority of patients will be seen sooner.

Find out more about the current waiting times standards and how they are governed

Legal guarantee

As well as these standards, the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 sets out a 12 weeks legal guarantee for inpatient and day case treatment.

Find out more about the legal Treatment Time Guarantee

Waiting times clock

Due to the start-stop nature, it is common for a patients waiting time to be referred to as a waiting times clock.

Find out more about the waiting time clock and how it works

Your rights and responsibilities

Under the Charter of Patients Rights and Responsibilities, you have certain rights and responsibilities when using the NHS in Scotland.

For waiting times, It's important that these be respected if patients are to receive treatment in the shortest time possible.

Your rights and responsibilities apply to waiting times in the following ways:

  • Availability
  • Appointments
  • Attendance

Find out more about how your rights and responsibilities apply to waiting times