Urgent cancer referrals still below pre-Covid levels

Public Health Scotland released the latest cancer waiting times data which covered the period October to December 2020.

Urgent cancer referrals still below pre-Covid levels PA Media

The number of Scots being referred to hospital when cancer is suspected is still lower than it was pre-Covid, new figures have revealed.

Public Health Scotland data for the period October to December 2020 showed there were 3,502 urgent referrals made.

While that is up by 14.9% from the previous three-month period, it is still 5.9% lower than October to December 2019, when there were 3,720  such referrals.

Cancer referrals fell after coronavirus hit Scotland, with the Scottish Government pausing screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer as the NHS focused on tackling the virus.

Breast and cervical cancer screening “started to slowly resume” from July 13, Public Health Scotland noted, with bowel cancer screening only returning from October 12.

The health body added that the last three months of 2020 had seen an increase in patients referred after breast and cervical screening.

Of those patients who were referred when cancer was suspected, 86.2% started treatment within the target time of 62 days.

That is below the Scottish Government target, which states that 95% of people referred urgently should begin receiving care within two months.

Only one health board in Scotland met the target, with NHS Tayside starting to treat 97.1% of cases within the target time, but this only happened for seven out of 10 (70.2%) of patients in the NHS Highland area.

Macmillan Cancer Support said it was “disappointed” the waiting time target had been missed again.

Strategic partnership manager, Lorraine Sloan, added: “It’s vital the cancer recovery plan is delivered as rapidly as possible to ensure all those waiting for diagnoses and treatment are seen as a matter of urgency.”

However, the figures showed that another cancer waiting time target was met by the NHS.

The Scottish Government target sets out that 95% of cancer patients should wait no more than 31 days for treatment to begin, once a decision has been made on how to deal with their disease.

In the last three months of 2020 this was achieved for 98.6% of cases nationally, a slight increase from the 98.4% achieved in July to September.

There were 14 NHS boards who met the target, with NHS Highland narrowly missing it with 94.7% of patients starting treatment within the 31-day target.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As we have previously said, patients are at the heart of our Cancer Action Plan and their safety and that of our NHS staff will continue to be our priority.

“Throughout the pandemic NHS Scotland has remained open, continuing to provide emergency and urgent cancer care, as well as maintaining Covid-19 capacity and resilience.”

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