STUDENTS are being drafted in to ease pressure on over-stretched NHS physiotherapists and speed up waiting times.

Figures show patients in some parts of Lanarkshire have waited five months for treatment after referral - the government target is four weeks.

NHS Lanarkshire has agreed a contract with Glasgow Caledonian University to send some patients for treatment by senior physiotherapy students.

Official documents show patients in Airdrie and Coatbridge have faced the longest waits for treatment at 22 weeks, followed by Hamilton at 20 weeks.

Figures show that only 36.9% of patients were seen within the target in November last year, with 5957 on the waiting list.

The board said it was continuing to experience a "significantly high number of vacancies" due to maternity leave, promotions and staff turnover but was recruiting "as rapidly as possible."

Physiotherapists are being drafted in from other areas and evening clinics are also being held to increase capacity.

NHS Lanarkshire said 500 fewer patients were waiting for physiotherapy but has apologised to patients experiencing lengthy delays for treatment.

A Unison spokesman said: "We would welcome the initiative shown by NHS Lanarkshire.

"It is far better than people going to the private sector and students get the opportunity to work with real patients.

"However, it raises concerns that staffing appear to be an issue."

The health board said patients would be treated by senior physiotherapy students supervised by a lecturer.

Peter McCrossan, NHS Lanarkshire Director for Allied Health Professions, said: “We continue to introduce measures to reduce waiting times.

"This includes offering patients the chance to attend evening clinics or to be treated by senior physiotherapy students supervised by a physiotherapy lecturer.

" We also make best use of our staff by placing them in the areas with the greatest demand.

“Since November we have 500 fewer patients waiting for treatment.

"We would like to apologise to anyone who has waited longer than expected. It is also worth noting that the majority of musculoskeletal injuries will settle without any treatment in around six weeks.”