Nicola Sturgeon has said improvements are needed after the worst ever cancer waiting times were recorded in Scotland.
Figures published by Public Health Scotland earlier this week show the number of patients waiting for cancer treatment who were seen within the 62-day target had fallen to a record low.
The data shows 76.9% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard in the first quarter of this year – January 1 to March 31 – compared to 79.1% in the previous quarter.
The 62-day standard is based on the time between urgent suspicion of cancer referral and the first cancer treatment.
At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked Ms Sturgeon about the issue.
He said the figures have got worse despite the Scottish Government promising to focus on helping the health service recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Sarwar said: “Since the election campaign last year, when Nicola Sturgeon made a promise to focus on Covid recovery and cancer catch-up, over 3,000 cancer patients have not started treatment on time.
“This problem predates the pandemic. In the eight years Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister she has never met the 62-day treatment standard.
“The recovery hasn’t even started yet. In fact things have got worse.
“Instead, haven’t we gone back to the divisive Nicola Sturgeon who is now spending seven days a week, sometimes what feels like 24 hours a day, focusing on her priority of dividing our country, rather than rebuilding it?”
The First Minister acknowledged the 62-day target is “not being met” but said the NHS has increased the number of patients being treated.
She said: “We continue to see an increasing number of cancer referrals and the priority of course is to ensure that these patients receive the care they need quickly.”
Once a decision is made to treat cancer, a patients waits an average of four days, she said.
However, she added: “Of course we recognise that improvements, particularly on the 62-day pathway, require to be made, which is why we’re investing over £40 million over five years to support cancer services, improve cancer waiting time and, of course, ensure earlier detection of cancer.”
She also told Mr Sarwar the NHS has faced significant challenges because of several coronavirus waves.
Figures also revealed the 31-day standard from decision to treat to first cancer treatment was met, with 96.3% of patients seen within the timeframe.
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