HALF of Scotland’s health boards are failing to hit a key target for cancer patients to start treatment as soon as possible.
Across Scotland, a target for 95 per cent of patients urgently referred by their GP with suspected cancer to start treatment within two months was narrowly missed, with 94.5 per cent seen this quickly between April and June.
But the figures reveal “concerning” differences between areas, with seven of Scotland’s 14 boards failing to hit the target, falling to 88.9 per cent in Grampian.
Health secretary Alex Neil said boards failing to hit the target would have to come up with action plans to tackle the problem.
The statistics, published yesterday by Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland, also revealed a drop in the percentage of patients starting treatment within 62 days after taking part in the colorectal screening programme.
Only 85.6 per cent of patients hit the two-month target, down from 88.1 per cent the previous quarter. It comes as boards try to increase the number of patients taking part in the screening programme with awareness campaigns to boost uptake.
Out of ten different types of cancer, the 62-day target was missed in six of them.
The worst performance was in urological cancers – such as prostate and bladder cancer – with only 88.2 per cent of patients starting treatment within two months.
This was closely followed by cervical cancer at 88.6 per cent and colorectal cancers at 90.3 per cent.
These figures compared with 98.7 per cent in breast cancer patients and 97.5 per cent for upper gastrointestinal cancers, such as oesophagus cancer.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said the waiting times and differences between boards were “concerning”.
“For any patient waiting for treatment, it can feel like a long time, so it is important that the wait is made as short as possible,” she said.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume said: “This widening gulf in treatment times will be upsetting and frustrating for patients and families who will want to know why patients with some cancer types are being treated more quickly than patients with other cancer types.”
Mr Neil said treating cancer was a top priority for the Scottish Government and cancer survival across the country was improving thanks to earlier diagnosis, advances in treatments and investment in staff and equipment. “This is against a backdrop of more Scots being diagnosed – with an increase of 4,000 patients treated under the 62-day target since 2007 – due to the successes of our national bowel, breast and cervical cancer screening programmes,” he said.
“But there is absolutely no room for complacency when it comes to cancer. We continue to closely scrutinise performance across NHS Scotland and action plans are required from NHS boards where there are challenges to sustained delivery against the waiting times standard.
“While this government has reduced waiting times to record low levels we know there is more still to do.
“Even more lives can be saved in Scotland through earlier detection.
“That is why we are investing £30 million over three years in the Detect Cancer Early programme to help improve survival rates and ensure that patients have swift access to the services they need.”