'Prehabilitation' scheme for Scottish cancer patients as waiting times at two-year high

Cancer patients will be encouraged to exercise and eat healthily ahead of treatment as part of a new government pilot scheme with waiting times at a two-year high.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf launched the scheme today
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf launched the scheme today

With just 83 per cent of suspected cancer patients starting their urgent treatment in the two-month target time, the government is to trial “prehabilitation” to offer advice on nutrition, exercise and mental health while they wait.

The pre-treatment support will be provided at the eight Maggie’s cancer centres across Scotland, with the pilot being funded by the Scottish Government.

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Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is due to visit the charity’s Dundee centre to launch the project and said: “Prehabilitation enables people with cancer to physically and mentally prepare for treatment by adopting healthy behaviours – with the ultimate aim of improving outcomes for them.

“It can reduce the length of stay in hospital and post-treatment complications, and improve recovery, fitness, nutritional status, neuro-cognitive function and quality of life.

“This pilot scheme will help us understand how the NHS and third sector can work together to help people ahead of their cancer treatment.

“With eight centres across Scotland, working with Maggie’s allows us to meet the needs of cancer patients close to home.

“We want to empower them to get the best possible results from their treatment, and improve their long-term health.

Cancer treatment has remained a top priority for the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Maggie’s chief executive, Dame Laura Lee, added: “We are delighted to be working with the Scottish Government to support people with new cancer diagnoses to understand the benefits of making changes before treatment begins.

“Gentle exercise, eating well and emotional and psychological support are already aspects of the Maggie’s core programme of support – but this usually comes after the patient has started treatment.

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“This new project will ensure newly diagnosed people find support sooner, and will be delivered while working with the NHS as part of their overall care package.”

Of the 3,601 patients urgently referred for treatment with suspected cancer in the first quarter of the year, 2,988 (83 per cent) started treatment within 62 days.

The latest NHS Scotland statistics also show a 2.9 per cent increase in the number of cancer patients in the first three months of 2021 compared to the previous quarter, although it is still 6.1 per cent below the quarter ending March 31 2020.

The average waiting time was 43 days, although the maximum recorded wait was 244 days.

Across Scotland, the Scottish Government’s target of 95 per cent of eligible patients waiting for treatment was only met by two health boards: NHS Shetland and NHS Borders.

However, once a decision to treat the cancer was made, 97.7 per cent of patients started treatment within the 31-day target, with an average wait of five days.