Cancer survival rates in Scotland could ‘go backwards’ for the first time

Cancer survival rates in Scotland could drop for the first time ever as the crisis-hit NHS struggles to cope with "chronic shortages in staff and equipment" this winter, it has been warned.

Charity Cancer Research UK said that the shortages meant waiting times targets for treating the disease had been missed for years and the "onset of winter pressures is likely to make the situation worse".

David Ferguson, the charity’s public affairs manager in Scotland, warned survival rates could go "backwards" for the first time and challenged Nicola Sturgeon’s government to provide "a clear roadmap to how staff shortages will be tackled".

His warning came as the latest waiting time figures showed that cancer treatment targets were missed again by every health board in Scotland.

Only 84.1 per cent of patients urgently referred started treatment within the 62-day deadline. The target is 95 per cent.

The longest wait for a patient with cancer was in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, who started treatment 397 days after an urgent referral.

Overall, the worst-performing health board was NHS Highland, where fewer than two-thirds of patients (64.8 per cent) started their treatment within 62 days.

More than a quarter of A&E patients face four-hour wait 

Separate figures disclosed more than a quarter of accident and emergency patients had to wait more than four hours to be seen in the week ending Sept 19.

It also emerged the number of hospital beds in Scotland has continued to decline over the past year, falling by a further 335. The total has fallen by 1,358 to 12,869 over the past decade, and by seven per cent since Ms Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014.

In numbers: How Covid impacted NHS treatment in 2020

The slew of figures further undermined her claim the pandemic alone is responsible for the crisis engulfing the NHS, which has also seen people forced to wait hours for an ambulance and a children’s hospital cancel operations.

The number of patients referred for treatment for urgent suspicion of cancer returned to pre-pandemic levels over the summer following a 10.1 per cent rise on the previous quarter.

But the total who actually started treatment was 260 down over the three months, compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Only 72.2 per cent of people referred from the cervical screening programme started treatment on time, a proportion that fell to 66.5 per cent for colorectal cancers.

Services were struggling pre-pandemic 

Mr Ferguson, 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.

"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."

Kate Seymour, head of advocacy for Macmillan in Scotland, said: "Sufficient funding must be put in place to ensure the right workforce, including specialist cancer nurses, is available to deliver the high-quality cancer care people in Scotland deserve."

Cancer screening services were suspended during the early part of the pandemic and many Scots with symptoms avoided going to their GP until the disease was far further advanced.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: "Our NHS is in disarray, cancer services are in crisis and our A&E departments are overwhelmed, but the Health Minister is missing in action. These long waits for cancer services risk a ticking time bomb of cancer deaths. There can be no time to delay."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Despite NHS Scotland experiencing unprecedented, significant and sustained pressures because of the Covid-19 pandemic, cancer has remained a priority.

"Our NHS staff have worked incredibly hard over the last year to ensure the majority of cancer treatment and care have continued, with the 31-day waiting times target being consistently met, and patients waiting an average of four days for treatment, following a decision to treat." 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *