Hospitals in Scotland will be legally obliged to treat patients within 12 weeks of diagnosis under a new law which came into force today.
The legal guarantee is one of several rights included in the Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities, which ministers are required to publish under the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011.
An independent advice service has also been set up to offer advice and support to NHS patients across Scotland.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: "Patients in Scotland are being treated quicker than ever - and this fast treatment will now be protected by a legal guarantee.
"We are continuing to meet our full 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment target, and now, as part of this journey, once patients are diagnosed and agree to the treatment it will start within 12 weeks.
"In 2007 over 29,000 people were stuck on 'hidden waiting lists' not getting the treatment they needed. I am proud that Scottish patients are reaping the benefits of what the NHS can achieve by protecting the founding principles of the National Health Service."