Scottish Labour has said the decision by the government to run NHS cancer surgery at 60 per cent capacity for 24 months was “wrong-headed” and could see operation numbers drop from more than 12,000 a year to about 7,000.
The party’s health spokesperson, Monica Lennon, said that health secretary Jeane Freeman had to “live up to her responsibilities now and give cancer patients the care they deserve” or there would be “a tsunami of cancer deaths” if planned cuts to operations went ahead.
Ms Lennon said almost 6,000 Scots had already died from cancer during the pandemic, which saw surgeries halted and hospitals cleared of patients in preparation of an influx of Covid victims. In addition, almost 400,000 checks for bowel, breast and cervical cancer were delayed when screening programmes were put on hold –although these are now restarting.
However the Scottish Government said Labour’s figures were “misleading” and cancer surgeries were operating “close to pre-Covid levels” while the majority of cancer treatments had continued throughout the pandemic, though some treatment plans were changed to minimise individuals risk.
Ms Lennon said: “SNP ministers were responsible for a crisis in cancer services long before coronavirus hit and cancer remains the most common cause of death in Scotland, with more people dying from cancer during the pandemic than from Covid-19. The plan to cut operations is wrong-headed. Ministers must take their responsibilities seriously and ensure that all cancer patients receive swift diagnoses and treatment.”
Marion O’Neill, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said: “It’s of huge concern that patients may not be able to receive the best possible treatment for their cancer. For some people, surgery can be a cure so it’s extremely worrying that it’s anticipated that surgical services will operate on such a reduced basis for a prolonged time.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said a new national cancer plan would be published in autumn and added: “At the end of March, a UK-wide report did estimate that all surgeries would run at only 60 per cent capacity but that has proven to not be the case. Our cancer surgery framework makes clear that patients should be prioritised.”