The Scottish Government has set the target that patients should wait no more than six weeks for eight key diagnostic tests
But a report by Public Health Scotland showed that, as of March 31 this year, there were 5,347 patients who had been waiting a year or more for an endoscopy – where a small camera is inserted into the body – with this total up by 15.2% since the end of December.
Overall 35,241 patients are waiting for an endoscopy, an increase of 3% from 31 December 2021, and 57.7% higher than the 12-month average prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, there are also 120,164 patients waiting for a radiology test – such as an MRI scan or CT scan – to be carried out.
This total is up by 12.3% from the end of December 2021 and is 81.9% higher when compared to the 12-month average prior to the onset of the pandemic.
Overall, Public Health Scotland said that at the end of March 2022 there were 155,405 patients waiting to be seen for the eight key diagnostic tests it collects data on – a rise of 10% from the end of December and 75.8% higher than average in the 12 months prior to the pandemic.
Of those waiting for a test, just under half (49.6%) had been waiting six weeks or less.
David Ferguson, public affairs manager for Cancer Research UK in Scotland, said that “chronic staff shortages” in the NHS were contributing to the waits.
He stated: “It is unacceptable that people in Scotland are waiting too long for a test to determine whether they have cancer.
“Early diagnosis followed by swift access to the most effective treatment can save lives.
“Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, the delays are due to Scotland’s chronic staff shortages in the areas key to diagnosing and treating cancer. These shortages have hampered progress for years – well before the pandemic.”
He demanded the Scottish Government “set out long-term, properly funded plans to address workforce shortages and improve cancer services so patients get the care they need and deserve”.
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane warned: “Waits for these crucial, potentially life-saving, diagnostic tests are spiralling out of control and creating a ticking timebomb in Scotland’s health service.
“It is hugely worrying that the number of patients waiting to be seen has once again soared.
“The increase in the number of people waiting for endoscopies and radiography tests, for example, will impact on the speed of cancer detection rates – and we know how crucial that is to survival chances.”
Dr Gulhane called for action from the Health Secretary, saying: “These stats are a product of the SNP’s failures on workforce planning and Humza Yousaf must get a grip of this crisis now, to ensure our health service has the frontline staff required to tackle this backlog and ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible.”