And the situation has been branded a “national scandal” by opposition MSPs.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said there has been an improvement on last year, but many patients were still “waiting too long”. Ministers have a target of 95 per cent of urgent referrals starting treatment within 62 days. This only happened in 81.4 per cent of cases in the first three months of this year, official NHS figures show.
This marks a deterioration from the 90.8 per cent achieved by the NHS in Scotland three years ago.
The Tories claimed Ms Freeman had presided over a “year of failure” after 12 months in the role.
Health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “People who have been urgently referred for cancer treatment have never waited longer for their treatment to begin. That’s an abysmal reflection on her tenure.”
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said: “These figures suggest that, despite working harder than ever, there aren’t enough staff to deliver the amount of tests required now or in the future.”
Across Scotland, a total of 3,692 patients were urgently referred to cancer services in the period January to March this year.
But NHS statistics showed in the first quarter of 2019 only three of Scotland’s regional health boards – NHS Lanarkshire, NHS Orkney, and NHS Shetland – managed to achieve the 95 per cent standard.
For those suspected to have bowel cancer or urological cancer, only two-thirds of patients – 66.5 per cent and 66.3 per cent respectively – began treatment within the target time.
The target of having 95 per cent of patients start within 62 days was not met for any of the ten different types of cancer, although in lung cancer cases 92.1 per cent began treatment in this time.
A total of 94.9 per cent of patients began getting help within 31 days of a decision being made to treat their cancer – just below the 95 per cent target.
Ms Freeman said: “The number of patients being treated within these targets has increased on the same time last year and it’s welcome that once a decision to treat has been reached, patients in Scotland wait on average five days for first treatment.
“However, these figures show that some patients are continuing to wait too long from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to treatment.”