A shake-up of key cancer services is underway after new figures revealed “unacceptable” waits for treatment as Scottish hospitals failed to hit key targets for nearly four years.
Campaigners said progress has stalled among many health boards on implementing the Scottish Government’s new cancer strategy, which aims to improve survival rates through early detection and treatment.
New NHS data showed that performance hit its lowest point since the target was introduced, as only 87.1 per cent of patients started treatment within 62 days.
Hospitals in Lanarkshire and the Borders were the only ones to hit the Scottish Government’s 95 per cent target.
Patients with melanoma were the only ones to receive prompt treatment, while performance fell well below the standard for urological cancer such as bladder, kidney, testicular and prostate cancers, where only 74.3 per cent were seen within two months.
Health Secretary Shona Robison announced a review into bowel and urological cancer services where demand is particularly high.
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “The latest figure is slightly lower than the previous quarter, but once again, the overall picture is worrying with many patients still waiting an unacceptably long time for cancer treatment to start.
“Speedy diagnosis and access to treatment is key to improving someone’s chances of survival so it is absolutely critical we see improvements soon.
“Eight months on from when the Scottish Government announced its new cancer strategy, it is clear many Health Boards need to make better progress.
“With many Boards continually missing target, we do need to now consider how much these targets are working, and if they can be improved to help give patients the best possible outcomes.”
A separate standard which guarantees treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat the cancer was also missed.
Labour Health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said: “The SNP performance on cancer is nothing short of an utter disgrace.
“The 62 day standard for urgent referrals to treatment has gone backwards again, and the target has now not been met for three years. That simply isn’t good enough.
“These figures come the day after another potentially vital cancer drug was rejected for use in our NHS whilst being used in the rest of the UK – people will be rightly wondering when the SNP are going to get they are act together on cancer.”
More than 32,000 Scots are diagnosed with cancer each year, which is expected to rise by a quarter to 40,000 over the next decade.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “As our population lives longer, more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer. At the current rate, we expect to see a 25% increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer by 2027.
“However, due to medical advances and improvements in our NHS, people are much more likely to survive cancer in 2016 than at any point in history. All of this together means our cancer services are facing unprecedented demand across Scotland.
“That is why I am today setting out a series of actions we’re taking forward over the next few months to make immediate improvements to capacity within these urological and colorectal services and reduce the time people wait to be seen.”