STAFF shortages are threatening to derail improvements in cancer survival in Scotland, an inquiry has found.

A report by the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on Cancer said the Scottish Government's plans have been inadequately funded and failed to take a long-term approach, hindering efforts to ensure more patients survive the disease.

In the space of five years, from June 2014 to June 2019, the total number of patients waiting for a key diagnostic test for cancer such an MRI, colonoscopy or endoscopy has rocketed 56 per cent from 56,591 to 88,012.

Over the same period, the proportion of patients referred for one of these tests who have to wait longer than the Scottish Government's six week target has also ballooned, from 8% to 18%.

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Campaigners was that staffing levels have been unable to keep pace with increasing demand and that the problem will only worsen as Scotland's population ages, increasing cancer incidence.

The findings will be presented today at the Scottish Cancer Conference in Glasgow.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “The findings of this inquiry are deeply concerning. Diagnosing cancer early can make all the difference, but there are major shortages in the staff trained to carry out the tests that diagnose cancer.

“Cancer services in Scotland are already struggling. Without urgent action, this will only worsen as demand increases.”

It comes after a report this month found that the UK's cancer mortality is higher than most EU countries, with 216 deaths a year for every 100,000 people. That is 25% higher than in Finland, and 9% higher than France.

The UK has one of the lowest rates of CT and MRI scanners among OECD nations. In 2017, there were nine CT scanners and seven MRI scanners for every million people in the UK, compared to 40 and 15 respectively in Denmark and 35 of each per million people in Germany.

There are also fewer doctors to people in the UK than any other EU nation, except Poland. In 2017, there were 2.8 practising medics per 1000 people compared to between 3.6 per 1000 in the Netherlands and 5.2 per 1000 in Austria.

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Labour MSP Anas Sarwar, co-convener of the CPG, said: “Cancer survival is being put at risk because of a chronic staffing shortage in our NHS. This has devastating consequences for patients with cancer and their families and friends.

“With a growing and ageing population, the time for action is now. We need a long-term workforce plan backed up by sufficient investment and resources to save lives in Scotland.”

Cancer kills more people in Scotland than any other disease, and every year around 32,200 new cases are diagnosed.

By 2035, it has been estimated that more than 40,000 people a year in Scotland will be told they have cancer.

CPG co-convenor Miles Briggs said urgent action was needed to improve cancer services if more people in Scotland were to survive following a diagnosis.

He said: “The key message from the inquiry is there simply isn’t enough NHS staff to do the job and, after more than 12 years in control of health, Scottish Ministers have not met this priority and outcome in the Cancer Strategy.

“Scottish Ministers have been warned repeatedly about the impact of this not just on cancer patients, but also on over-stretched NHS staff too.

“A damning report like this must spur Scottish Ministers into action. We now need to see urgent action to improve cancer services across Scotland.”

Tom Martin, a grandfather of eight from Edinburgh, is among those who has faced delays in diagnosis. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2016, but waited 90 days between being referred for tests by his GP to actually starting treatment - well in excess of the Scottish Government's 62-target.

The 81-year-old is now cancer-free but acts as an ambassador for Cancer Research UK.

Mr Martin said: “NHS workers do an amazing job and I’m so grateful for the treatment and care I received. But cancer services are stretched to the limit, something which is only going to get worse as more people are diagnosed with cancer.

“Waiting for my cancer diagnosis and treatment was such an anxious time, for me and my family. You don’t know where you stand and there are times you fear for the worst.

“I know that if cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. I do wonder if I had been seen earlier, would the prostate cancer have been caught sooner, before it had spread. Who knows?

“The Scottish Government must not shy away from making long term plans that will ensure cancer services are able to cope now and in the future. People like me will depend upon it.”