More than 100,000 Scots are now waiting for key diagnostic tests to be carried out by the NHS.
New figures show at the end of September there were 102,716 people on the waiting list – a rise of 17.5% on the same time in 2019.
Public Health Scotland, which published the data, said the coronavirus pandemic has had a “significant impact on diagnostic services”.
Separate figures show NHS Scotland failed to meet a target for increasing the number of cancer patients who are given an early diagnosis.
A total of 25,412 people were confirmed as having breast, bowel or lung cancer in 2018 and 2019, with just over a quarter (25.6%) of them diagnosed at stage 1 – the earliest possible stage.
The Scottish Government had set the target of increasing the number of early diagnoses by 25% in the eight years leading up to that but Public Health Scotland figures show a 9.8% rise over the period.
Kate Seymour, head of policy and campaigns in Scotland for Macmillan Cancer Support, described the figures as “very worrying”.
She said: “For eight years, the target set by the Government to improve the percentage of people diagnosed at the earliest stages of cancer has been missed.
“What’s even more concerning is since March over 500,000 bowel screenings and 150,000 breast and cervical screenings have been delayed.
“We are extremely concerned this will lead to a surge in people diagnosed with more advanced cancers, particularly in deprived communities, where people continue to be diagnosed later with cancer and die at a higher rate than those in the least deprived areas.”
Meanwhile, the figures show more people were waiting longer for diagnostic tests to be carried out.
Of those requiring these checks, just over half (53.3%) had been on the waiting list for less than the target time of six weeks at the end of September, compared with 82.3% at the same time in 2019.
The Public Health Scotland report said: “The Covid-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on diagnostic services and this is reflected in the statistics shown.
“Early on in the outbreak many services were paused or reduced and there were also less referrals to services.
“As Scotland moved into phase two of the lockdown from June 19, boards started to resume services as part of the planned remobilisation of services.
“Since then, demand has gradually increased and national and local initiatives have been put in place to increase capacity where possible and address any backlog of patients waiting for a diagnostic test.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The SNP’s dismal record on health continues to get even worse with these new statistics.
“While we can all understand the unique challenges brought to bear on our health service during Covid-19, the SNP Government cannot be allowed to deflect blame for this significant rise in waiting times.
“My heart goes out to the over 100,000 patients left waiting to receive these tests, as the delays will be causing further stress on top of their health conditions.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “These extremely worrying waiting times prove our NHS urgently needs resources from the Scottish Government.
“Early diagnosis and treatment of disease is vital, as are measures to prevent illness.
“SNP ministers have been warned for months to bring in routine testing for all healthcare workers and put measures in place to maintain Covid safe spaces in our hospitals.
“Scotland is facing a tidal wave of health problems and the SNP Government must urgently start giving our NHS the support it needs in order to prevent unnecessary deaths and chronic illness.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe