Cancer patients waiting longer for treatment in Scotland

Cancer patient Image copyright Getty Images

Cancer patients are having to wait longer for treatment, according to new figures.

In the first three months of this year, 81.4% of cancer patients started treatment within the Scottish government's 62-day target, compared to 85% a year earlier.

The government says 95% of patients should wait no more than 62 days for treatment after an urgent referral.

Cancer Research UK said the problem was caused by a lack of staff.

The charity said the figures showed the NHS was under "immense strain" and urged the government to invest in recruiting key cancer staff.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she had been clear with health boards that cancer patients must be prioritised.

The latest figures showed that 3,692 people were urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer between 1 January and 31 March.

About one in five were not treated within 62 days.

But of those suffering from colorectal or urological cancers, one in three will wait more than two months for treatment to begin.

Just three NHS boards - Lanarkshire, Orkney and Shetland - met the government standard.

In the Highlands, more than 25% of people waited too long to start their cancer treatment.

Woman with cancer
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Cancer in Scotland

Jan - March 2019

  • 3,692Patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer

  • 81.4%were treated within 62 days

  • 66.6%of 577 colorectal cancer patients treated within 62 days

  • 66.3%of 727 urological cancer patients were treated within 62 day

Source: ISD Scotland

Gregor McNie, of Cancer Research UK, said any delay to the start of cancer of treatment made an "incredibly anxious time" worse.

"Every quarter figures emerge that show the NHS continues to be under immense strain," he said.

"To have any chance of meeting its ambitions to diagnose cancer earlier, the Scottish government needs to invest to ensure we have enough key cancer staff now and in the future."

The government has also set a 31 day standard, under which 95% of patients should wait no more than 31 days from the decision to treat the cancer, to first treatment.

This showed an improvement, with 94.9% of patients being treated within 31 days - up from 93.5% for the quarter ending March 2018.

Urgent suspicion

Half of patients received their first cancer treatment within five days of the decision to treat, the report found.

Ms Freeman, the health secretary, said the total number of patients treated within the targets had increased on the same time last year.

"However, these figures show that some patients are continuing to wait too long from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to treatment," she added.

"I have been clear with health boards that cancer patients must be prioritised."

She pointed to a £6m endoscopy action plan and a £850m waiting times improvement plan as evidence of the government's commitment to improving the experience of cancer patients.

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