Twice as many deadlines missed for cancer tests

Only for ultrasound scans did waiting lists drop. For all other cancer tests the numbers of those not treated within six weeks more than doubled, with those missing CT scans up from 22 to 200. Picture: Getty

Only for ultrasound scans did waiting lists drop. For all other cancer tests the numbers of those not treated within six weeks more than doubled, with those missing CT scans up from 22 to 200. Picture: Getty

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THE number of patients missing Scottish Government waiting time targets for life-saving cancer tests has more than doubled over the last year, new figures have revealed.

The most recent NHS data shows thousands of patients are not being treated within a six-week target for eight crucial tests that can detect or prevent deadly diseases such as throat cancer, bowel cancer and brain tumours.

Analysis of the waiting times for eight key “diagnostic tests” show that the number patients who waited more than six weeks in March this year stood at 5,314, compared with 2,472 in March 2014.

The figures showed that the number patients missing the target for upper and lower endoscopies, which are used to investigate the digestive tract, increased from 814 in March last year to 2,443 in March this year.

Similarly, the number who missed the six-week deadline for colonoscopies, which detect disease in the large bowel, increased from 609 to 1,309 over the same period.

The number of patients missing the target for MRI scans, which are used to look for conditions such as brain tumours, increased more than threefold, from 278 to 895, over the last year. The number of missed CT scan targets went from 22 last year to 200.

The only test to buck the trend was ultrasound scans, where the number of patients missing the target fell from 627 last year to 105.

Labour’s health spokeswoman Jenny Marra claimed the Scottish Government was not doing enough to ensure that targets were met.

“These targets are there to ensure that people with potentially serious conditions get the benefit of early detection and have the best possible chance of a full recovery but more and more patients are having to wait longer than the six weeks,” said Marra.

“Our NHS is being overwhelmed because there simply aren’t enough resources going in to cope with the targets being set by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.

“They took the decision to squeeze the NHS budget even harder than the Tories and the consequence has been people being made to wait longer and longer. There is no point setting targets unless you resource our hospitals properly. This has to be addressed urgently or patient care will continue to suffer.”

Dr Jean Turner of the Scottish Patients’ Association said: “The difficulties with meeting targets is that we have an ageing population and in the 1990s we did not really make enough provision for that.

“There are not enough clinicians, space or time. There are also challenges in recruiting and retaining staff. Patients do not like politicians fighting each other. We have got to work together to see what we can do to provide a better service for patients.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison acknowledged that the government had to do a lot more to reduce waiting times, but claimed they had fallen since Labour was in power. 

“Our hard-working NHS staff ensured that 91.2 per cent of patients had one of eight key diagnostic tests within six weeks according to the latest figures,” Robison said.

“This is against the background of increased demand and a challenging winter ­period.

“However, we know we must do more to cut waits, which is why we are targeting funding at boards and areas that need it most.”

Comment

Dr Richard Simpson MSP: Lack of early diagnosis puts lives at risk

IN MARCH 2013, I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. I received excellent and timely treatment from NHS Forth Valley, I had chemotherapy and major surgery and am now a cancer survivor.

I can have no cause of complaint for my own treatment personally, however, that doesn’t mean our NHS is in peak condition.

This Tuesday past saw “Super Stat Tuesday” – the quarterly spectacular when screeds of statistics are published about the performance of our NHS.

Amongst them we saw a huge rise in patients waiting more than the Scottish Government target of six weeks for key diagnostics tests.

The key test to detect the form of cancer I lived with is an upper endoscopy. As of 31 March this year the number of people waiting more than six weeks for the test was over 1,500. At the same period in 2014 the figure was 500, an increase of more than 200 per cent in a year. This is not a rogue occurrence; there are massive increases across seven of the eight diagnostic tests. The number of patients waiting longer than six weeks for CT scans for example has increased by over 800 per cent since last year.

These are key diagnostic tests for a reason; early detection makes it much more straightforward to treat conditions. Early detection saves lives.

The obvious question to ask is why and which patients are waiting more than six weeks? The majority of the diagnostic failing seems to be concentrated in two health boards – Ayrshire and Arran and Grampian – but at opposite sides of the country. This isn’t a localised problem but one which should be of national concern.

My personal experience, and the experience of the overwhelming majority of Scots, is that our NHS staff are dedicated, hardworking and talented. These are people who have dedicated their lives to saving others. I say this because pointing out the problems and challenges in our NHS has been met with the ludicrous accusation from the SNP that we are “talking staff down”.

There’s been a shrill response for a simple reason – the problems in our NHS are entirely down to the decisions and priorities of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. It was Nicola Sturgeon herself who said that a government in its second term in office cannot avoid responsibility for its failings. A government that has been in office for eight years cannot avoid the results of its own decision making.

It was the Edinburgh government’s decision to target our NHS for a deeper spending squeeze than Westminster. For all the rhetoric around austerity, the reality is the NHS in England is getting more support from the Tories than our NHS in Scotland from the SNP.

The results were always going to be inevitable – patients waiting longer for the treatment they need, and in the case of diagnostics it will be potentially putting lives at risk.

• Dr Richard Simpson MSP is Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for public health

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