‘Cancer catastrophe’ fears as NHS fails to meet waiting time target

Ministers have set a target of 95% of patients to start treatment within 62 days of their referral.

‘Cancer catastrophe’ fears as NHS fails to meet waiting time target iStock
Cancer Research say 'swift action is needed from government and NHS leaders to prevent a cancer catastrophe.'

NHS Scotland has once again failed to meet a key waiting times standard for cancer patient treatment.

A total of 83.1% of patients began their treatment within 62 days of being referred in the period of July to September 2021 – down from 84.1% in the previous three months and the 87.1% recorded in July to September 2020.

Ministers have set a target of 95% of patients to start treatment within 62 days of their referral.

David Ferguson, Cancer Research’s public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “This is an exceptionally tough winter for the NHS and its staff and the long waits will be a huge worry for anyone who’s waiting for cancer treatment.

“Swift action is needed from government and NHS leaders to prevent a cancer catastrophe.

“We know the Scottish Government is working on a new NHS workforce strategy. This must include both short term and long-term actions that will ensure we have the right staff in place to detect, diagnose and treat cancer.

“This will be essential when it comes to tackling waiting times and improving cancer survival.”

Public Health Scotland figures show that in NHS Orkney, only two out of five patients referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer began treatment within two months – the lowest rate across all health boards in Scotland.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These figures show that more patients were treated within the 62-day standard following an urgent suspicion of cancer referral, compared to the same period pre-Covid.

“Although there are still challenges, we recently published the Framework for Effective Cancer Management, providing NHS Cancer Teams with the tools to effectively manage patients with a suspicion of cancer, from the point of referral to first treatment. This will improve both patient experience and cancer waiting times.

“The Endoscopy and Urology Diagnostic Recovery and Renewal Plan, backed by £70m investment, was published last month to address challenges in cancer pathways with scope-based diagnostic tests.

“Our national screening programmes are offering routine screening, however capacity is challenged due to the sustained pressure that the NHS remains under as a result of the pandemic. We will ensure care continues to be delivered safely to patients, based on their clinical priority.”

The number of people being referred for help has increased by a third compared to the same time last year.

Macmillan’s head of advocacy, Kate Seymour said: “Today’s cancer waiting times figures show that the targets continue to be missed. Behind every breached waiting time is a person trying to cope with the stress and anxiety of not knowing if they have a life threatening illness.

“Even before the pandemic, the system was struggling with the sheer numbers of people in need of treatment and support. There is still a backlog in cancer care, and immense pressures on the NHS and its staff, and this is only going to get worse as the winter pressures continue to build.

“Sufficient funding must be put in place to ensure the right workforce, including specialist cancer nurses, is available to deliver the high quality cancer care people in Scotland deserve.”