Patients in the UK will have new legal rights on waiting times from 1 April 2010, Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said.

Nine out of ten people supported new legal rights proposals to give the right to maximum waiting times for elective treatment and for urgent cancer referrals, or for the NHS to look for an alternative.

“Gone are the days of 18-month waiting times. Now average waiting times, from referral to treatment, are around eight weeks, and rapid access to cancer specialists is saving lives across the country,” 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.”

New waiting times will now mean that, from 1 April 2010, patients will have the legal right to start treatment by a consultant 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 doesn’t happen, the NHS will be legally obliged to take all reasonable steps to offer them a range of alternative providers.

From 1 April 2012, everyone between 40 and 74 who is eligible will have the legal right to an NHS Health Check every five years.

The consultation also received support for future rights on evening and weekend access to GPs, access to NHS dentistry, and the right to key diagnostic tests for patients suspected of having cancer within one week of seeing a GP, with an interim milestone of two weeks.