The college issued the warning after Information Services Division Scotland published the first figures based on the country’s new method of measuring waiting times.
The system was introduced in January by the Scottish Government to remove 30,000 inpatients held on Availability Status Codes – so-called ‘hidden waiting lists’. Patients on the codes have now been added to active waiting lists.
As of 31 March, the provisional figures show the number of outpatients on the waiting list was 170,496, of whom 303 had waited more than 18 weeks for an appointment.
The number of people waiting for inpatient or day case treatment was 62,604, of whom 40 had waited more than 18 weeks.
The national maximum waiting time target is to become more stringent with the whole journey from referral to treatment set to be a maximum of 18 weeks from 31 December 2011.
But Ellen Hudson, RCN Scotland associate director, said: ‘It’s very important standards in the quality of care do not slip as a result. Patients must not be rushed through the system to the detriment of their health and dignity.’
Waiting times for England, also published last week, suggest more patients are being seen within the government’s 18-week waiting target.
Health minister Dawn Primarolo said that by March 2008, 85% of patients who required hospital admission had been treated within 18 weeks.
‘Today’s data indicates that most NHS trusts are on track to achieve the December target to treat all patients within 18 weeks and many have already met it,’ said Ms Primarolo. ‘Ten years ago it was not uncommon to wait 18 months or more for treatment and people died languishing on waiting lists,’ she added.