Fears staffing shortages may derail £100m government cancer plans

The Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Cancer, which compiled the report, heard evidence that efforts to increase diagnostic capacity were being hindered by staffing levels. Picture: Getty
The Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Cancer, which compiled the report, heard evidence that efforts to increase diagnostic capacity were being hindered by staffing levels. Picture: Getty
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Staff shortages in the NHS could derail the Scottish Government’s flagship £100 million cancer strategy, a new report is warning.

The five-year-plan for improving care for the 32,000 Scots diagnosed with cancer each year is on track to meet the majority of its objectives, but concerns have been raised over a lack of clinicians in key areas like radiology.

The laudable aims of the cancer strategy simply can’t be delivered unless the staffing crisis in our NHS is addressed

ANAS SARWAR

This in turn is slowing down the aim of having more cancers diagnosed then treated quicker, with the number of people with the illness expected to reach 40,000 by 2027.

The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Cancer, which compiled the report, heard evidence that efforts to increase diagnostic capacity were being hindered by staffing levels.

Gregor McNie, head of external affairs in Scotland for Cancer Research UK, said: “A great deal of progress has been made in the implementation of the strategy and we’re really pleased to see the Scottish Government is on course to meet its £100 million funding commitment.

“However, significant staffing shortages remain a serious concern and the Scottish Government must now plan and deliver for a fully resourced Scottish cancer workforce both now and in the future.”

The strategy, due to be fully implemented by 2021, is aimed at getting more cancers diagnosed and treated quicker.

A large majority – 47 out of 54 – of its actions and investments have been completed or are on track, the report found.

It highlights progress in areas including tackling obesity, and tobacco and alcohol use - all linked to cancer.

But the group’s co-convenors, Miles Briggs and Anas Sarwar, said urgent action was needed to address staff shortages.

Labour MSP Mr Sarwar said: “The laudable aims of the cancer strategy simply can’t be delivered unless the staffing crisis in our NHS is addressed. The extra investment in cancer services is welcome, and a lot of progress has been made, which this report recognises.

“But years of workforce mismanagement are taking their toll, and it is cancer patients who are being let down as a result.”

Tory MSP Mr Briggs said: “The SNP government has been warned for years about the dire consequences of poor workforce planning and the Cross Party Group’s inquiry highlights this neglect. If ministers continue to ignore these warnings, cancer patients across Scotland will pay the price.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was due to meet members of the Scottish Cancer Coalition yesterday to discuss the strategy.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the cross-party group’s report recognises, 87 per cent of the actions in the strategy have either been completed or are on track.

“We recognise there can be challenges in recruiting the right specialist staff for some services.

“That’s why the Scottish Cancer Taskforce is feeding into the development of the Scottish Government Integrated Workforce Plan, which aims to address workforce needs across Scotland.

“Under this government there has been a 66 per cent increase in consultant oncologists and a 45 per cent rise in consultant radiologists.”