Cancer patients in some of Scotland’s most rural areas are experiencing “disruption and delay” to their treatment after a specialist doctor quit earlier than expected.
In an update to “key stakeholders”, NHS Highland said the specialist colorectal oncology consultant left the board’s employment “earlier than planned” and bosses have not been able to source a replacement, with the impact also being felt in the Western Isles.
According to the board, 78 current patients will experience delays or disruption to treatment, while 13 will not begin treatment until the issue is resolved.
The Scottish Government has been notified, according to the update – which was shared by Scottish Labour – and has since written to the other 13 health boards in the country seeking support for the impacted authorities “but at this time we do not have an indication of when this will occur”, NHS Highland said.
“This unfortunately means patients in NHS Highland and the Western Isles are likely to experience delay and disruption to their treatment until we can find a replacement or a national solution for all our patients is developed,” the health board said. “We have written to all 78 patients affected to explain that their consultant has left.
“Yesterday, it was agreed on the advice of professional medical, nursing and pharmacy colleagues that it was no longer safe to continue administering chemotherapy to those patients who are not under the clinical supervision of a colorectal oncology consultant.
“We are currently suspending treatment for these and are unable to commence treatment for 13 patients identified as requiring chemotherapy.
“This position will be under continuous review, but at this time we are sorry that we are unable to advise our patients of when their chemotherapy treatments will be offered.
“For our patients this will be a very worrying time and personal contact is being made with these patients through their specialist nurse.
“For our staff this is also a challenging situation to face which is unprecedented and we thank them for their continued dedication to their roles.”
The board said other cancer centres in Scotland have also been hit by a shortage in specialist doctors, particularly those in the colorectal field, but NHS Grampian and NHS Tayside “have offered to take a small proportion of our patients”.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This is a travesty for those affected and a national scandal.
“Cancer is Scotland’s biggest killer and swift treatment is key, but these patients are being left to deteriorate because of a workforce crisis the SNP let spiral out of control.
“This is the devastating reality of the SNP’s record – lives at risk and the very founding principles of our NHS under threat.
“The Scottish Government must act now and help NHS Highland through this crisis before patients pay the price.”
Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant described the situation as a “disgrace”, adding the board has been “sounding the alarm for months” with the Scottish Government, having reported the problem in April.