UP to 3000 more coronavirus tests are needed in Scotland each day for the safe return of cancer services, a leading charity has said.

Cancer Research UK said the extra tests were required to ensure NHS staff and facilities were free of the virus, which poses an increased risk to cancer patients.

The charity estimated there had been a drop of around 16,000 urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer in Scotland since lockdown began ten weeks ago.

For services to become fully operational again, an extra 1700 to 3000 Covid-19 tests would be needed daily to ensure diagnosis and treatment areas were free of infection, it said.

The call comes amid continued shortfalls in Scotland’s Covid-19 testing capacity.

On Saturday, the Scottish Government said just 3,229 tests were conducted out of a capacity of 15,500, the lowest number of tests in more than a month.

This was in spite of all 40,000 care home staff being offered routine testing, and the launch of the test and protect system for people with suspected symptoms and their contacts.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman yesterday published a framework for the gradual return of cancer screening and other services suspended because of the lockdown.

However the 100-day plan was described as “vague” by Scottish Labour, who said it lacked the details patients and their families would be looking for.

Marion O’Neill, head of external affairs at Cancer Research UK in Scotland, said: “It’s deeply concerning that patients are not receiving the cancer diagnostic tests and treatment they need.

“This is partly due to people who have worrying symptoms not visiting their doctor because they’re frightened they’ll become vulnerable to the virus when they go for tests in hospital.

“Cancer testing and some treatment has also significantly stalled due to the pandemic, putting lives at risk.

“To address this, we need to see Covid-19 testing efforts ramp up for staff and cancer patients so everyone has confidence that diagnosis and treatment areas are safe.

“In some cases, this would lead to lives being saved."

She added: "Early diagnosis can significantly improve someone’s chances of survival.

"It’s crucial patients don’t wait for the pandemic to be over before they receive the treatment they need.  

“This is why it’s essential we see all cancer services fully operational in Scotland. This means taking action to quickly ramp up the number of virus tests offered.”

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Cancer Research are absolutely right to raise this.

"It’s been five weeks since I proposed regular tests for NHS and care workers and It is baffling why Scotland hasn’t done this already, when we know that coronavirus is being spread in our hospitals and care homes.

"Given the pressure this virus has put on cancer services and how vulnerable cancer patients are, this must be an urgent priority.”