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by Andrew Learmonth
28 September 2021
Concern Scottish cancer survival rates could ‘go backwards’ as treatment target is missed

Concern Scottish cancer survival rates could ‘go backwards’ as treatment target is missed

Cancer Research UK has said they are concerned cancer survival could ‘start to go backwards’ in Scotland for the first time.

The charity spoke out after new statistics from Public Health Scotland revealed lengthy waits for patients, with the government’s target for urgent suspected cancer referrals, was being missed. 

The figures, published today, revealed that during the last quarter for which results are available, from April – June 2021, 630 patients, around 16 per cent, were waiting longer than 62 days to start treatment following an urgent suspected cancer referral. 

That’s far below the government’s target of 95 per cent of patients being seen within what’s referred to as the 62 day standard. 

According to the figures, there were 3,953 eligible referrals, an increase of 10.1 per cent from the previous quarter. This, Public Health Scotland said, was a return to pre-pandemic levels.

Of those, 84.1 per cent started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 83 per cent in the previous quarter, and 84.7 per cent for the quarter ending 31 March 2020.

There was better news with the 31-day standard that states that 95 per cent of all patients should wait no more than 31 days from decision to first cancer treatment.

There were 6,322 eligible referrals within the 31-day standard, an increase of9.2 per cent from the previous quarter, similar to the 6,460 eligible referrals made in the quarter before the pandemic.

Of those, 98.1 per cent of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 97.7 per cent in the previous quarter and 96.2 per cent for quarter ending 31 March 2020.

While the 62-day standard was not met by any of the NHS boards, the 31-day standard was met by all fifteen NHS Boards.

David Ferguson, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “These worrying statistics tell us too many people are waiting far too long for diagnosis and treatment.

“While some of the waits are due to backlogs and additional Covid-19 safety measures, cancer services were already struggling before the pandemic. Chronic shortages in staff and equipment mean that cancer waiting time targets have been missed for years.

“The onset of winter pressures is likely to make the situation worse and we’re concerned cancer survival could start to go backwards for the first time.

“The Scottish Government has promised a new NHS National Workforce Strategy. This must include a firm commitment to develop a clear roadmap to how staff shortages will be tackled. Investment in equipment is also needed to meet demand now and in the future.”

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Time is right to reform Scotland's exams, says education minister



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