Nearly one in three patients in the Lothians are waiting longer than six weeks for key diagnostic tests, including those to detect cancer.
The percentage of people being seen with the Scottish Government’s targeted time has dropped from 78.6 per cent to 69.7 per cent in a year. Some 3583 patients did not meet the referral target in September for one of more of the eight tests and investigations, including colonoscopy and CT scans.
The Lothians figures are the worst in Scotland – with the national average for the quarter ending September 30 being 81.6 per cent of patients being seen. The target is that no one should be waiting longer than six weeks for a test.
In September 2016 there were 2047 patients waiting past the timescale for tests and investigations in the Lothians.
Cancer Research UK responded to the figures describing the delays as “unacceptable”.
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “Waiting to find out if you do or don’t have cancer can be an incredibly anxious time, and it’s unacceptable that some people are having to wait so long for tests. There is increasing pressure on diagnostic services as the number of people being referred for tests grows. For example, a national shortage of radiologists is also contributing to delays. Some welcome investment in training has been made to make sure the right workforce is in place in the long term.
“But innovative solutions, such as upskilling some workers and introducing incentives for skilled staff to remain in the NHS after retirement, are also needed to urgently address current backlogs.”
Only the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank achieved 100 per cent of the standard six week target.
Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive, NHS Lothian, said: “We see and treat the majority of patients within the agreed waiting time and I would like to apologise to patients who have been waiting longer.
“We know it can be a worrying time and we work hard to make sure we treat everyone as quickly as possible.
“To reduce waiting times and improve our services, we are looking at the provision of additional clinics and theatre time, and redesigning patient pathways to help identify and avoid potential delays to treatment.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Cancer testing remains a key priority for Boards and we have made an additional £4.85 million available to them this year to improve access to testing for patients who are suspected of having cancer. Only last week, we launched a new, easier bowel screening test which we hope will increase the number of people accessing home testing and reduce the number of unnecessary colonoscopies being carried out in hospital.
“An additional £1m funding is also being deployed through the National Radiology Redesign Programme to roll-out new radiology reporting technology.”
However, shadow health secretary Miles Briggs slammed the “unnecessary stress” caused to patients.
He said: “The number of patients waiting to receive a diagnostic test in Lothian is particularly concerning, with only 69.7 per cent of people receiving a diagnostic test within the target of six weeks, the lowest percentage anywhere in Scotland”
“This is part of an alarming trend that has been caused by the SNPs mismanagement of the NHS over the last ten years and their lack of foresight to create a sustainable workforce plan. The unnecessary stress caused to patients who are having to wait weeks on end to find out if they may have cancer is inexcusable and SNP ministers must take action now to turn this situation around.”