NHS hits A&E target but lags on cancer treatment

Breast cancer analysis. Picture: Hemedia
Breast cancer analysis. Picture: Hemedia
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HOSPITALS in the Lothians have met A&E waiting times targets for the first time since January – but health chiefs are still struggling to deliver prompt cancer treatment.

After a difficult winter, NHS Lothian saw more than 95 per cent of patients within four hours in the week ending March 20.

It came as NHS chiefs apologised for the second time in four months after dozens of cancer patients were left waiting too long for treatment to start.

Official data shows 93.3 per cent of patients urgently referred to a specialist were seen within two months, against a 95 per cent target. Cancer waiting times have been rising over recent months and hospitals have not met the target since December 2014.

The long waits have been blamed on capacity issues, such as staffing shortages and a backlog of patients waiting for key diagnostic tests.

Those with urology cancers, such as bladder, kidney and prostate cancers, were the worst affected as one specialist surgeon relocated to England and another could not work for medical reasons.

Politicians branded the figures “unacceptable” as the longest waits soared to more than 110 days.

Sarah Boyack, Labour candidate for Edinburgh Central, said: “It’s bad enough that NHS Lothian is failing to meet the target that sees people accessing treatment for cancer within 62 days, but the fact that some people are waiting as long as 113 days is unacceptable.

“It must be incredibly worrying to have to wait months for treatment when we know that early treatment has the best chance of success. It’s a damning indictment of the SNP’s nine years in power.”

Labour has vowed to cut cancer waiting times, saying patients will see a specialist and get results within a fortnight.

Colin Graham, chief executive of Cancer Support Scotland, said: “Every day counts when someone is diagnosed with cancer. A great deal of attention is paid to A&E waiting times and it’s time the same level of attention was given to cancer waiting times.”

A separate standard that demands patients receive treatment within 31 days of the decision to treat was met successfully.

Chris Stirling, site director of the Western General Hospital, said: “During this quarter, a total of 445 patients began their first cancer treatment in Lothian within 62 days.

“We know that 32 patients waited too long for treatment and I would like to apologise to them. I would also reassure them that we are continually working towards improving pathways and increasing staffing and capacity to ensure they are treated within the appropriate timeframes.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison’s spokesman said: “On cancer waiting times, we are continuing to meet the 31-day target, and improving on the 62-day target, but we want to go further faster, which is why we’ve brought forward a £100 million strategy to tackle cancer.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com