Thousands of Scots wait over target time for NHS cancer treatment

Health Secretary Shona Robison. Picture: Greg MacveanHealth Secretary Shona Robison. Picture: Greg Macvean
Health Secretary Shona Robison. Picture: Greg Macvean
More than 5,000 Scots have waited longer than the target time to start cancer treatment in the last five years within the 'struggling' NHS, a leading has charity said.

Macmillan Cancer Support called for action after figures were published showing the waiting times target for the disease had been missed again.

The goal is to have 95 per cent of all people urgently referred starting treatment within 62 days. That target has not been achieved for the past five years.

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Analysis by the charity showed from the start of January 2013 to the end of December last year a total of 5,509 patients waited more than two months to start treatment.

These included the latest NHS figures, which showed that in the past three months of 2017 that 87 per cent of cancer patients began getting help within the target time, down very slightly from the previous quarter.

There were 3,394 people referred for treatment during the period, an increase of 4.3 per cent on the same time in 2016.

But the figures showed three out ten urological cancer patients, including people with kidney, bladder and prostate cancer, waited more than two months to start treatment in October to December 2017.

More than a fifth of cervical cancer patients waited longer than this, with the target met for 78 per cent of women in this group.

None of the ten main types of cancer covered by the statistics achieved the goal of having 95 per cent of patients start getting help within 62 days, the figures showed.

Four regional health boards managed this, with the target met in NHS Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Lanarkshire and Orkney, while ten areas failed to achieve it.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s national programme manager in Scotland, Gordon McLean, said: “It’s now five years since cancer waiting times were met. That’s five years of people who are waiting to start cancer treatment facing unnecessary stress and anxiety.

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“The NHS failing to meet these targets is a clear sign that it’s struggling. NHS staff work extremely hard, but they can’t make up for an outdated system.”

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said: “It’s very concerning that cancer waiting time targets continue to be missed. It’s an unacceptable situation which causes a great deal of anxiety for people.

“These statistics tell us that cancer services in Scotland are struggling to cope as every year more people are referred for diagnostic tests.

“A plan of action is urgently needed and we hope the Scottish Government’s on-going review of waiting times will soon publish some bold recommendations for the future.”

The NHS also narrowly failed to meet another cancer waiting time target, of having 95 per cent of eligible patients start receiving treatment within 31 days of a decision being made on how best to care for them.

This was achieved for 94.6 per cent of patients in the past three months of 2017, the same as the previous quarter.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scottish Government is committed to beating cancer, investing more than £100 million in our cancer strategy which is focused on improving the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare of those affected by the disease, including £5m to improve cancer waiting times across Scotland.

“There are more urgent suspected cancer patients being treated than ever before, and our expert group is continuing to focus on driving forward cancer performance.

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“In May, we will host an event bringing together cancer experts across Scotland to share best practice and learning and consider what other innovative approaches can be taken to drive up performance.

“And we are also pulling together a package of bold measures to tackle the root causes of cancer. Obesity is the second-biggest cause of preventable cancer, behind smoking.

“We have recently consulted on a package of bold measures which includes world leading proposals to restrict the promotion and advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, including bargain buy special offers on junk food.

“Scotland is also the first part of the UK to have set a target to eliminate smoking from society by 2034. We have already reached a record low in the numbers of teenagers smoking, and halved the number of children being exposed to second hand smoke.

“We want to go further, and next month the Scottish Government is launching a major campaign to encourage more smokers to stop.”