Getting a diagnosis of cancer, or indeed any other serious illness, is one of the worst pieces of news anyone can ever expect to receive.
The patient is filled with fear about the future, their treatment, their chances of survival, their family – the list of questions running around their head is endless.
The NHS accepts that speedy treatment is key in helping boost survival rates from cancer. And yet time after time the official figures show health boards in Scotland failing to see patients quickly enough.
The target – or “standard” as it is now known – is for 95 per cent of patients referred by their GP with a suspicion of cancer to start treatment within 62 days.
So, that’s two months for the NHS to get its act together and get the patient seen, diagnosed and starting treatment. To most, this would not seem like a particularly short timeframe or arduous task to organise.
But still, many health boards are falling short. The latest figures published this week showed that across Scotland 94.6 per cent of patients started treatment within the 62-day window, so just short of the 95 per cent “standard”.
Five health boards fell short of the desired 95 per cent, including Tayside, where performance dropped to 90 per cent.
But there are also wide variations between cancer types as well, which are baffling. For example for lung cancer, one of the most deadly cancers and needing of fast treatment to give the patient the best chance, only 91.3 per cent of patients were seen inside 62 days.
Compare this to breast cancer – surely the most talked about and campaigned about of all cancers – where 98.8 per cent of patients start treatment within 62 days.
I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be told by your GP that you might have cancer but hopefully, if that’s the case, you’ll start treatment within two months.
If you think you have a tumour growing inside you a day must feel like a week, a week like a month and two months – well, that’s almost a lifetime.
So the least patients can expect is that this meagre target is met and if possible exceeded.
Health secretary Alex Neil has now said special teams will be sent to monitor and help those boards failing to consistently meet the target.
How they will go about this task, and whether these boards will get extra resources to help them, remains to be seen. But we all need to watch with interest as one day we could be the ones receiving the news nobody wants to hear.