Scotland’s cancer wait times are now their ‘worst ever’

The data showed that less than 72 per cent of the 4,262 patients referred were seen within 62 days, well below the Scottish Government’s 95 per cent target.

The shocking cancer statistics will have made uncomfortable reading for new Health Secretary Michael Matheson, especially as waiting times in the emergency department and the number of bed-days lost to late discharge in Scotland’s hospitals have also risen.

Opposition parties were quick to blame Mr Matheson’s predecessor, Humza Yousaf. The Lib Dems called on the First Minister to apologize.

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In the last quarter of 2022, 71.7% of eligible patients started treatment within the 62-day target time, up from 75.1% in the previous quarter and down 12 percentage points from the last full quarter before the pandemic of October-December 2019 83.7% were seen within the target time.

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The government’s target standard is that 95% of eligible patients should wait no longer than 62 days from urgent cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

The number of patient referrals continued to increase, standing at 4,262 in October-December last year, up 2.3% sequentially and 14.5% higher than the quarter ended December 31, 2019.

There is a wide disparity between Scottish health authorities, with some treating just 61% of patients in the target time, others as much as 89% of patients.

However, no board met the 95% standard.

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dr Sorcha Hume, Public Affairs Manager of Cancer Research UK in Scotland, said: “Today’s cancer wait times demonstrate the scale of the challenge facing the new First Minister.

“We know the NHS has been under significant pressure over the winter and is working hard to cut the backlog of people awaiting a cancer diagnosis, but these numbers are the worst on record. It is unacceptable that more than one in four people wait too long to be diagnosed and start cancer treatment.

“There is an urgent need for action. The first priority for the First Minister must be the publication of the new cancer strategy and its rapid implementation. Cancer patients count on him.”

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Janice Preston warned: “Things are getting worse and will be felt for years to come.”

She added: “It is clear to see that every health authority in Scotland is feeling the effects of a struggling workforce due to exhaustion and reaching retirement age, leading to long waits for people living with cancer across the country.

“There is no quick fix, but we need and deserve a system in Scotland that treats patients faster and overcomes the current delays.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr. Sandesh Gulhane said: “These appalling figures reveal the chilling legacy of Humza Yousaf’s leadership of our NHS. During his time as health secretary, cancer wait times continued to worsen each quarter.

“It is beyond shame that almost a third of patients do not start treatment within two months. It will only have devastating effects on their chances of survival.”

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labor health spokesperson, said: “These are the worst cancer statistics on record as thousands of Scots have failed from the SNP.

“Not a single health department is meeting the government’s 62-day cancer target – that’s shameful. After 10 years and four failed SNP cancer plans, it is clear this is a government without ideas and putting lives at risk.”

Christine Jardine, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for Scottish affairs, said: “This SNP/Green Government has failed everyone in Scotland who has ever had to hear a cancer diagnosis or lost someone they love. Humza Yousaf owes us all an apology and has serious questions to answer about how he allowed this to happen.”

Mr Matheson said: “Today’s figures show that despite the impact of the pandemic, our NHS is treating more cancer patients on 31- and 62-day pathways than ever before.

“In this quarter alone, more than 900 additional patients were treated compared to the same time before the pandemic. Despite this increase in numbers, the median waiting time from the decision to treat to the first treatment is five days.

“Cancer remains a national priority for the NHS and the Scottish Government, which is why we will be publishing a new 10-year strategy in Spring 2023.

“We are committed to finding cancer earlier and faster which is why we have established a network of urology diagnosis centres, are investing in optimal cancer diagnosis pathways and are activating additional rapid cancer diagnosis services across Scotland.”

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Meanwhile, statistics released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday show that just 63.4% of those who attended A&E in the week of March 26 were seen within the four-hour timeframe.

Of the 25,658 visitors, 1,658 people waited more than 12 hours while 3,750 waited more than eight hours.

On the late discharge, Public Health Scotland said that in February this year, 51,732 bed-days were lost in patients willing to be discharged, compared with 47,713 in the same month last year, according to a Public Health Scotland press release.

According to the figures, 1,871 people were waiting to be laid off, up 2% from the previous month – when it was 1,833 – and below November’s peak of 1,977.

The average length of the delay was 21 days, compared to a peak of 28 days in December. Scotland’s cancer wait times are now their ‘worst ever’

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