LOTHIAN patients who have been diagnosed with cancer are facing stressful and unacceptable delays in receiving their lifesaving treatment, it can be revealed.
New figures have shown that between July and September, almost ten per cent of 520 people in the region urgently referred to specialists after being given the dreaded diagnosis were forced to wait longer than the Scottish Government target of 62 days for their treatment to begin.
For patients with colorectal cancer and cancer affecting the head and neck, NHS Lothian hit the target in fewer than 80 per cent of cases, and in urological cancers, such as bladder, kidney, prostate and testicular, 82.5 per cent of sufferers began their treatment on time – the lowest rate in all of Scotland.
The government expects health boards to hit the cancer waiting times target 95 per cent of the time, but in Lothian it was achieved in just 91.5 per cent of cases, with only health boards in Orkney and Grampian performing worse.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said she had written to Health Secretary Alex Neil more than five weeks ago to express concerns about cancer waiting times in the region, but had not yet received a response.
She said: “Over the last year we have seen a gradual decline in performance against the 62-day target for all cancers and there has been no explanation from the Scottish Government on why this is happening, or why NHS Lothian is faring worse than elsewhere.
“I am particularly concerned about the figures for colorectal cancer. This is one of the priority cancers under the government’s Detect Cancer Early initiative. The delays seem to be occurring before diagnosis has taken place and every day without confirmation will add stress to patients and their families.
“The Scottish Government needs to step in to halt the decline in performance against cancer targets.”
NHS Lothian’s performance against the 62-day target dropped compared with the previous period, between April and June, when it succeeded on 93.6 per cent of occasions despite having a higher number of urgent referrals.
During the same July to September period last year, NHS Lothian hit the 62-day target 97.8 per cent of the time.
In another cancer target, NHS Lothian’s performance was in line with other health boards, with 97.6 per cent of cancer patients receiving their first treatment within 31 days of agreeing on the course of action with their doctor.
NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division said that, on average, cancer patients in Lothian waited nine days for treatment to begin – longer than at any other health board in Scotland.
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning and primary care for NHS Lothian, said: “We are committed to ensuring that patients in NHS Lothian receive the best quality care as swiftly as possible and we apologise to any patients who have waited too long.
“Our performance has been excellent, but in recent months it has slipped. This has prompted us to put a series of robust measures in place to put us back on track, which includes extra staff training, streamlining processes and services and introducing weekly tracking to identify patients who may be at risk of waiting too long before it happens.”