Drop in number of cancer patients seen within waiting time target

Official statistics on waiting times were published on Tuesday.

Drop in number of cancer patients seen within waiting time target iStock

The number of patients who started treatment for suspected cancers within the Scottish Government’s 62-day target has fallen.

Official figures published by NHS Scotland on Tuesday indicated that the figure fell from 86.1% of patients to 83 (2988) between January and March.

There was a total of 3601 eligible referrals for the 62-day standard, an increase of 2.9% from the previous quarter.

The standard sets out that 95% of eligible patients should wait a maximum of 62 days from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

It was only met by two health boards – NHS Borders and NHS Shetland.

Once a decision to treat the cancer was made however, 97.7% of patients started treatment within the Government’s 31-day target, with an average wait of five days.

The statistics also showed a drop in the number of patients who started treatment for cervical cancer within 62 days of referral.

The figure was down to 72.2% of referrals stating treatment within the target time, a decrease from 88.9% in the previous quarter.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced that a woman died after being incorrectly excluded from the cervical screening programme.

They said around 430 women were wrongly excluded from the programme over the last 24 years.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the situation on treatment time guarantees is “dire and urgent”.

“Information about cervical cancer screening errors was deliberately withheld from the public until the last day of the parliamentary term,” he said.

“Women may know themselves if they had a subtotal hysterectomy and could have booked in for screening, but as it is more precious time has been lost.

“In the meantime, the Scottish Government have continued to fail cancer patients across Scotland who need timely treatment.

“With more women likely to need screening and follow up care as a result of the public health scandal, the Scottish Government need to get a grip of cancer care and treatment.”

He added: “Treatment time guarantees have never been the Scottish Government’s strong suit, but these failures cannot be swept up under the excuse of the pandemic. We are on the cusp of a crisis. There is no more time to lose.

“The situation is dire and urgent. There must be an emergency debate to ensure these issues are at the very top of the Scottish Government’s agenda when parliament is recalled on the 13th of July.”

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “It is reassuring that, during a further national Covid-19 lockdown in the first quarter of 2021, once a decision to treat was made cancer patients in Scotland waited on average five days for treatment.

“The 31-day standard has been consistently met throughout the pandemic.

“While the overall aim is to improve cancer-waiting-times performance, our priority, as the NHS continues to remobilise, remains ensuring that vital services are delivered safely to patients based on their clinical priority.

“This week we have announced a further £10m will be provided to health boards across Scotland to improve cancer waiting times – through investment which will be used to enhance staffing, for diagnostic tests, and to support evening and weekend working so more patients can be seen.”

“SNP Ministers must go further and faster to urgently tackle the backlog in waiting times for patients.”

Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative MSP

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland is living through a national emergency in cancer care and it is costing lives.

“These shameful figures are made even more shocking when you realise that the pandemic has seen referrals drop – meaning many Scots could be living with cancer and not even know it.

“The SNP claim to be dealing with the cancer crisis but the figures speak for themselves. These targets have not been met in over eight years, and this crisis is getting worse, not better.

“Lives are on the line and we cannot afford to waste any more time. It is time to take action and start treating this like the national emergency it is.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Annie Wells said: “These figures highlight again the devastating effects the pandemic has had for thousands of cancer patients across Scotland.

“Being treated as quickly as possible gives patients the best chance of survival, but SNP Ministers are failing to hit key targets and the picture is only getting worse.

“We now shamefully see that the number of patients getting their first cancer treatment within two months is now at the lowest level in a year.

“SNP Ministers must go further and faster to urgently tackle the backlog in waiting times for patients”.

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