Cancer referrals dropped by a fifth after lockdown
Cancer referrals dropped by more than a fifth in the three months after lockdown was imposed, compared to the same time last year, new statistics show.
The Public Health Scotland figures indicate there were 5,056 referrals for the 31-day standard from April to June, down 23 per cent from the same period in 2019.
The 31-day standard refers to patients not waiting more than 31 days from decision to treat to receiving their first cancer treatment.
Meanwhile, there were 3,056 referrals made under the 62-day standard, which covers referral to first cancer treatment – 22 per cent less than April to June 2019.
Cancer screening services for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer were paused in March to direct more resources to tackling COVID-19 and reduce the number of patients attending GPs.
The number of referrals from these screenings has decreased significantly as a result. Referrals from screenings for breast cancer dropped by 55.8 per cent, for colorectal cancer by 58.5 per cent and for cervical cancer by 22.7 per cent.
Marion O’Neill, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said: “The growing backlog of people waiting is very worrying and must be tackled as a matter of urgency. The early diagnosis of cancer can significantly improve someone’s chances of survival.
“With a second wave of COVID-19 likely, everything possible must be done so patient care doesn’t suffer and waiting lists don’t get longer. This will require innovation as well as further investment in staff and equipment.”
There was some improvement in the proportion of referred patients starting treatment. For the 31-day standard, 97.1 per cent of patients started treatment, compared to 94.7 per cent for the quarter ending June 2019.
Between April and June 84.1 per cent of patients started treatment within 62 days from referral, compared to 82.4 per cent last year. However, this means the target of having 95 per cent of patients seen within 62 days was missed for the 30th consecutive quarter.
Scottish Labour has urged the government to prioritise cancer services. Health spokesperson Monica Lennon said: “We are running the risk of thousands of Scots receiving treatment too late and even more missing treatment all together. The emotional toll that long waits for treatment put on patients must be alleviated.”