'Unacceptable' Cancer Treatment Waiting Times Condemned As Targets Missed Again

Waiting times for cancer patients have been described as "unacceptable'' by charities after new figures revealed key targets have been missed again.

Hundreds of patients are waiting longer than they should for treatment, according to statistics covering the final three months of 2016.

Health boards should ensure at least 95% of patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer will wait a maximum of 62 days from referral to first cancer treatment.

Statistics show only 87.5% of patients - 2,846 out of 3,254 - started treatment within the 62-day standard in the final quarter of last year, compared to 87.1% in the previous quarter.

Only five health boards - Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Lanarkshire, Orkney and Shetland - met the target.

The 31-day standard - to ensure 95% of patients will wait no more than 31 days from decision to treat to first cancer treatment - was also missed.

In the final three months of 2016, 94.1% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, a slight decrease from 94.3% in the previous quarter.

The 31-day standard was met by 11 out of 15 NHS boards.

Gregor McNie, of Cancer Research UK, said: "These latest figures show once again a worrying picture for cancer services, with many patients still waiting an unacceptably long time to start cancer treatment.

"Speedy diagnosis and access to treatment is key to improving someone's chances of survival so it's absolutely critical we see improvements soon.

"Over a year on from when the Scottish Government announced its new cancer strategy, it's clear many health boards need to make better progress, and show progress from new investments.''

Janice Preston, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "It is unacceptable that the cancer waiting times targets have been missed for four years in a row.

"We would like all health boards to list the reasons why they are missing the targets so we can look at ways of improving services for cancer patients at such a vital time.''

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government wants to do more to ensure targets are met.

"Backed by our five-year £100 million cancer strategy, last December I announced a number of changes to benefit patients and increase access for all cancer patients - particularly focused on urology and colorectal cancer.

"We are also reforming outpatient services, streamlining access to cancer specialists and decreasing the time it takes to get a diagnosis.''

Ms Robison also announced £180,600 of funding for a new scheme to decrease health inequalities connected to cervical cancer screening rates.

Charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has been given the cash through the Government's cancer strategy.

It will be used to launch a Glasgow outreach service, targeting groups less likely to attend screening appointments.

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "These figures are utterly shameful - they show that for four years the SNP have failed families across the country, and the performance is getting worse.

"Labour has been arguing for years that if your doctor suspects you have cancer, you should expect to see a specialist and get a diagnosis in two weeks.

"We can only achieve that by fixing the staffing crisis in our NHS.''

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