Minister admits Scotland waiting-time target is 'long overdue'
Scotland's health minister has acknowledged that there is still a long way to go before waiting-time targets for cancer patients are met. Nicola Sturgeon's comments follow the latest Cancer Waiting Times statistics for the first three months of the year, which show that the NHS in Scotland is still failing to start treatment for newly-diagnosed patients within the recommended two months of urgent referral by their GP. A target of 95 per cent should have been reached at the end of 2005, yet statistics reveal a headline figure of 84.5 per cent which, although higher than the figure for the first quarter in 2006, has remained static since the previous quarter. Ms Sturgeon said that the figures demonstrated the full scale of the challenge inherited by the new Scottish government. "If anyone was in any doubt about the scale of challenge Boards face to meet the 95 per cent, these latest statistics should make things crystal clear. This target should have been met by the end of 2005 and the fact is that this is now long overdue," she admitted. The minister acknowledged that no overall progress has been made since the end of 2006 and said that the action plan unveiled in May is therefore all the more relevant. "It is vital that patients get the best treatment, appropriate to their needs, as quickly as possible. That's the message I've been taking to Boards throughout Scotland as part of the on-going annual review process," she revealed. Ms Sturgeon noted that some Boards, including NHS Forth Valley and Grampian, have made significant progress towards the target, while others such as NHS Highland, Lanarkshire and Lothian are still "well adrift". "Different Boards face different challenges, but I am clear that the NHS as a whole should be working together to ensure that the 95 per cent target is met by the end of this year at the latest - patients and their families should expect nothing less," she concluded. Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said that if patients have to wait too long before receiving treatment, they may experience a less successful outcome. "Waiting to begin treatment after receiving a cancer diagnosis is very distressing for patients and their families. "While it's disappointing that the overall target in Scotland hasn't yet been reached it is encouraging that improvements are being made," she added.