Scotland meets national cancer target

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS in Scotland has met a key target for cancer waiting times, the Scottish government has said.

The Scottish government set a target to treat 95 per cent of urgently referred cancer patients within two months in 2001, with the target to be met in 2005.

Meeting the target was problematic for successive governments, but now latest figures show that 95.4 per cent of patients across Scotland began treatment within 62 days of urgent referral in the period October 1st to December 31st 2008.

The statistics mark a significant improvement since January to March 2007, when just 84.5 per cent of cancer patients began treatment within two months.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon hailed the "significant achievement" and thanked NHS staff for their hard work.

"The improvement since this government took office in May 2007 shows how seriously we take this issue," she said.

"But we must continue to strive for further improvement within specific NHS Boards and cancer types, and to ensure this achievement is sustained for the future."

Ms Sturgeon also noted the Scottish government's new goal to start treatment for all cancer patients within 31 days by December 2011, which is contained in the government's Better Cancer Care action plan, and said that the latest achievement provides a "strong foundation" on which to build.

"A cancer diagnosis is always extremely worrying for patients and they deserve the shortest possible wait between a decision to treat and that treatment starting," she noted.

"This government and our NHS partners will channel every effort into making sure cancer patients are treated swiftly and to the very highest standards."

The Scottish health secretary was speaking at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where she opened a new linear accelerator that will provide radiotherapy treatment.

Richard Davidson, Cancer Research UK's director of policy and public affairs, said: "It's very encouraging to see that the waiting times target for cancer treatment has been reached. Waiting for treatment to start can be a very distressing period and where possible, patients should begin treatment as soon as appropriate."

However, Mr Davidson observed that there is still variation across Scotland and between cancers.

For instance, the figures show that while 100 per cent of all cancer patients were treated within 62 days in Borders, Orkney and Shetland, just 92.3 per cent of those in the Western Isles started treatment within the recommended timeframe.

Similarly, 98.9 per cent of breast cancer patients were treated within 62 days of urgent referral, compared with just 87.9 per cent of head and neck cancer patients.

Mr Davidson added: "It's important that everyone diagnosed with cancer has access to treatment within the target waiting times irrespective of where they live or the type of cancer they are diagnosed with."