MORE than 1,200 Scots have been left waiting more than two months to start cancer treatment following an urgent referral, according to grim figures published by Health Protection Scotland.

The data revealed that less than 72 per cent of the 4,262 patients referred were seen within 62 days, well below the Scottish Government’s 95% target. 

The shocking cancer statistics will have made uncomfortable reading for new Health Secretary Michael Matheson, especially as A&E waiting times and the number of bed days lost to delayed discharge in Scotland’s hospitals are also up.

Opposition parties were quick to blame Mr Matheson's predecessor, Humza Yousaf. The Lib Dems urged the First Minister to apologise.

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In the last quarter of 2022, 71.7% of eligible patients started treatment within the 62-day target time, down from 75.1% in the previous quarter and a 12 percentage point decrease since the last full quarter pre-pandemic of October-December 2019 when 83.7% were seen within the target time.

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The government’s target standard states that 95% of eligible patients should wait no longer than 62 days from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

The number of patients referred has continued to increase, at 4,262 in October-December last year, up 2.3% on the previous quarter and 14.5% on the quarter ending December 31 2019.

There are wide discrepancies among Scotland’s health boards, with some seeing only 61% of patients in the target time, and others as many as 89% of patients.

However, no board met the 95% standard.

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Cancer Research UK’s Public Affairs Manager in Scotland, Dr Sorcha Hume, said: “Today's cancer waiting times highlight the scale of the challenge facing the new First Minister.  

“We know that the NHS experienced significant pressures during the winter and is working hard to bring down the backlog of people waiting for a cancer diagnosis but these figures are the worst on record. It is unacceptable that more than one in four people are waiting too long to be diagnosed and start cancer treatment.  

“Urgent action is needed. The top priority for the First Minister has to be publishing the new cancer strategy and ensuring that it is implemented quickly. Cancer patients are counting on him.” 

Macmillan Cancer Support's Janice Preston warned: “Things are getting worse and will be felt for years to come.”

She added: “It’s clear to see that every health board in Scotland is feeling the impact, from a struggling workforce, due to exhaustion and staff reaching retirement age, the consequence is people with cancer across the country are facing long waiting times.

“There’s no overall quick solution, but we need and deserve a system in Scotland that treats patients quicker and tackles the current delays.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These horrendous figures lay bare the terrifying legacy of Humza Yousaf’s stewardship of our NHS. In every quarter during his time as health secretary, cancer waiting times continued to worsen.

“It is beyond disgraceful that almost a third of patients are not starting treatment within two months. That will only be having a devastating impact on their chances of survival.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “These are the worst cancer statistics on record, with thousands of Scots being failed by the SNP.

“Not a single health board is meeting the government’s 62-day own cancer target – that is shameful. After 10 years and four failed SNP cancer plans, it is clear that this is a government out of ideas and endangering lives.”

Liberal Democrat Scottish affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “This SNP/Green Government have let down everyone in Scotland who has ever had to hear a cancer diagnosis or lost someone they love. Humza Yousaf owes us all an apology and has serious questions to answer about how he has allowed this to happen.”

Mr Matheson said: “Today’s figures show that our NHS, despite the impact of the pandemic, is treating more cancer patients on 31 and 62 day pathways than ever before.

“More than 900 additional patients were treated in this quarter alone, compared to the same time pre-pandemic. Despite this increase in numbers, the median wait from decision to treat to first treatment is five days.

“Cancer remains a national priority for the NHS and Scottish Government which is why we will publish a new 10-year strategy in spring 2023.

“We are committed to finding cancer earlier and faster which is why we have established a network of urology diagnostic hubs, are investing in optimal cancer diagnostic pathways and activating additional rapid cancer diagnostic services across Scotland.”

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Meanwhile, statistics released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday show only 63.4% of those that attended A&E in the week of March 26 were seen within the four-hour time frame.

Of the 25,658 attendances, 1,658 people waited longer than 12 hours, while 3,750 waited more than eight hours.

On delayed discharge, Public Health Scotland said that in February of this year, according to a release from Public Health Scotland, 51,732 bed days were lost with patients who were ready to be discharged, compared to 47,713 in the same month last year.

According to the figures, 1,871 people were waiting to be discharged, an increase of 2% from the figure the month before – when it stood at 1,833 – and below the November peak of 1,977.

The average length of delay was 21 days, down from the December peak of 28 days.