The number of cancer patients who have to wait longer than the target of 62 days to receive treatment has increased, according to official statistics.
The target states that 95 per cent of patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer should wait a maximum of 62 days from referral to first cancer treatment.
However, figures published by the Information Services Division indicate only 81.4 per cent of patients were seen – a drop of 3.2 per cent from the previous quarter (84.6 per cent).
The 95 per cent target was met for the 31-day standard – which states patients must be seen within 31 days following a decision to first treat cancer – with 95.1 per cent of patients doing so, a slight increase from 95 per cent in the previous quarter.
The 62-day standard was met by two NHS Boards, NHS Borders and NHS Lanarkshire – however it has not been met at a national level since 2012.
In October, the Scottish Government announced an £850 million investment under its Waiting Times Improvement Plan, which aims to “substantially and sustainably improve NHS waiting times”.
Gregor McNie of Cancer Research UK said: “It’s worrying that these targets are still not being met.
“Waiting for treatment to start is an anxious time for patients and these delays are far from acceptable.
“Cancer services in Scotland are struggling to cope as every year more people are referred for diagnostic tests.
“Staff shortages remain a serious concern. Swift action from the Scottish Government is now needed to ensure there are enough staff in Scotland to deliver the vital tests people need.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Despite an increase of 738 of patients being treated within the 62 day referral standard than ten years ago, performance against this target is simply not good enough.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton labelled the new figures “an absolute disgrace”.
He said: “No one should be forced to endure such a prolonged period of anxiety and long waits could jeopardise patients’ chance of recovery.
“This autumn, SNP ministers admitted that they don’t expect to meet this target until 2021. The Scottish Liberal Democrats demand better.”
Scottish Conservatives shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “It is deeply concerning that cancer referral waiting targets are being increasingly missed.
“Survival rates for cancer are dramatically improved with early diagnosis and treatment, so lengthening waiting times for cancer are especially concerning.
“SNP ministers should never have allowed the waiting times to get this bad through repeated mismanagement.”