Cancer charities: missed treatment target 'unacceptable'

Doctors looking at mammograms Image copyright Science Photo Library

Cancer charities have said it is "unacceptable" that a key waiting times target has been missed.

All but two health boards failed to meet a target to treat 95% of urgently-referred cancer patients within 62 days between April and June.

Just 89.7% of patients were treated within the deadline - down from 90.2% in the first three months of 2016.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said a £100m cancer strategy would drive improvements.

And she urged health boards to "work harder" to help patients get a quick decision on whether they need treatment.

New figures show that just NHS Borders and NHS Lanarkshire met the 62 day standard.

Image copyright Cancer Research UK

However 13 of Scotland's 15 health boards met a target that 95% of patients will wait no more than 31 days from decision to treat to first cancer treatment.

A total of 95.7% patients were treated within the timescale.

Cancer Research UK said the waiting times statistics highlighted the "worst performance" since records began in 2010.

The charity's senior public affairs manager in Scotland, Gregor McNie, said: "At a time when cancer is Scotland's most common cause of death, it's unacceptable that this target hasn't been met.

"Patients must be diagnosed and treated swiftly if they are to have the best chance of survival.

"Early diagnosis of patients is a priority in Scotland's new cancer strategy, but we want to see fast progress to ensure patients are not left waiting too long."

Trisha Hatt, Macmillan Cancer Support's strategic partnership manager, said it was "deeply disappointed that the cancer waiting times have been missed yet again".

She added: "We know that 75% of Scots are diagnosed late.

"Being treated late as well all adds up to cause real problems getting appropriate care for cancer patients - particularly for those with immediate palliative care needs."

Targets explained

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • 62-Day Standard: 95% of patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer will wait a maximum of 62 days from referral to first cancer treatment.
  • 31-Day Standard: 95% of all patients will wait no more than 31 days from decision to treat to first cancer treatment.
  • Median wait: Half of patients will have received treatment within this period.

Scottish Labour's health spokesman Anas Sarwar said the statistics should act as a "wake-up call" for a government which had become "complacent on cancer".

He added: "These figures don't just represent some sort of inconvenience - the sooner people receive treatment the better the outcomes can be.

"Equally the anxiety caused by waiting can have a huge impact on friends and family.

"The time between suspicion to diagnosis is also crucial. That's why Labour have been making the case that if your doctor suspects you have cancer you should expect to see a specialist and get a diagnosis in two weeks."

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: "It's unacceptable for the SNP to only be getting one of 10 cancer types starting treatment within the target timeframe.

"This is a performance that must be improved quickly."

'Immediate improvements'

The government's health secretary acknowledged that prompt cancer treatment was vital.

"That's why we have set rigorous standards in this areas," she said.

Ms Robison added: "I want health boards to work even harder to improve early access to diagnostics so that patients can get a decision on whether they need treatment or not as quickly as possible.

"This is where we are focusing our efforts - with an additional £2m invested this August to support immediate improvements in diagnostic and treatment capacity.

"In addition, health boards who have particular challenges with waiting times are subject to enhanced monitoring by the Scottish government, to provide support and assistance in bringing down waits.

"We are also concentrating on improving services across Scotland for patients with urological cancer - including work at a national level to build capacity across NHS Scotland and investing in new technology such as robotic-assisted surgery.

"And we are continuing to implement our new £100m cancer strategy which will drive improvements in access to cancer care and invest in the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare for cancer patients - as well improving treatment waiting times."

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