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13 December 2016, 12:43
Health Secretary Shona Robison has announced a shake-up of some cancer services after new figures showed the NHS has failed to meet a key waiting-times target for patients for almost four years.
Official statistics showed that in the three months from July to September, 87.1% of patients given an urgent referral when cancer was suspected began their treatment within 62 days.
That is down from the previous quarter, when the proportion was 89.8%, and is below the 95% target set by the Scottish Government.
Just two health boards in Scotland - NHS Borders and NHS Lanarkshire - met the 62-day treatment target in the latest quarter.
Across Scotland, the standard was only met for one type of cancer, with 97.7% of patients urgently referred for melanoma beginning treatment within two months.
For other types of cancer the performance fell below the standard, including cervical cancer (73.9%), urological cancer (74.3%) such as bladder, kidney, testicular and prostate cancers, and bowel and colon cancers (79.8%).
Labour branded the statistics an "utter disgrace'' and Janice Preston, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "We are extremely concerned that for all of 2016 so far, as well as the previous three years, the cancer waiting-times targets have been missed.
"As we head into the Christmas season, people should be spending quality time with friends and family instead of worrying about waiting for a cancer diagnosis and starting treatment.''
The NHS across Scotland also failed to meet another cancer waiting-time target in July to September.
A total of 94.3% of patients with the disease began treatment within a month of a decision being made on how to care for them, just below the 95% target and down from 95.7% in the previous quarter.
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK's senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: "The overall picture is worrying, with many patients still waiting an unacceptably long time for cancer treatment to start.
"Speedy diagnosis and access to treatment is key to improving someone's chances of survival, so it is absolutely critical we see improvements soon.''
About 32,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer each year, with this expected to rise to 40,000 a year over the next decade, according to the Scottish Government.
Ms Robison said: "As our population lives longer, more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer. At the current rate, we expect to see a 25% increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer by 2027.
"However, due to medical advances and improvements in our NHS, people are much more likely to survive cancer in 2016 than at any point in history.
"All of this together means our cancer services are facing unprecedented demand across Scotland.
"That is why I am today setting out a series of actions we're taking forward over the next few months to make immediate improvements to capacity within these urological and colorectal services, and reduce the time people wait to be seen.''
Urological and colorectal cancer services are being prioritised for improvement, to increase capacity and respond to the rising demand being seen by these services.
The Health Secretary also confirmed a review of urology services is under way while efforts to reduce demand on colorectal cancer services are being prioritised, with a new diagnostic test being considered for use across the country from early next year.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "The SNP performance on cancer is nothing short of an utter disgrace.
"The 62-day standard for urgent referrals to treatment has gone backwards again and the target has now not been met for three years. That simply isn't good enough.
"Behind these statistics are anxious patients and families, waiting longer for the treatment they need than they should.''