SCOTTISH cancer patients have been forced to wait months for potentially life-saving treatment – because of staff and equipment shortages.
Almost 1,200 seriously ill patients have been forced to suffer long delays for medical attention in the past two-and-a-half years due to a lack of doctors, nurses and other resources.
The numbers of patients facing delays has shot up across many of Scotland’s 14 health boards, despite a Government pledge to ensure the best possible treatment in the shortest possible time.
Health campaigners called the delays “disgusting” and warned that hospital staff moral was at an “all time low”.
Scottish patients who are diagnosed with cancer are meant to begin treatment within 31 days of an urgent referral. While those suspected of having the disease should be seen within 62 days.
However, official stats reveal that in the first six months of 2012, 290 patients faced far longer waits.
In 2011, 530 people faced delays in their cancer treatment, compared to 375 in 2010.
The worst authority was NHS Grampian, where 312 patients, since 2010, were not treated on time because of shortages.
NHS Lothian delayed treatment for 189 cancer patients, Highland 145, NHS Fife 111 and Greater Glasgow 82 patients.
NHS Tayside delayed treatments for 81 patients, compared to Scottish Borders which had 13 and Dumfries and Galloway, 19.
Joan Galbraith, founder of Scottish Cancer Support said: “We’ve had to take people with cancer from Kilmarnock to Aberdeen and Inverness because those were the nearest hospitals that could offer the treatment they needed.
“There’s no way people should have to go that far when they are suffering from cancer.
“If things like that are happening it’s no wonder targets aren’t being met.
“The staff we speak to say morale is at an all-time low. They are constantly being criticised but people don’t realise there isn’t enough staff to cope.
“Nurses and doctors are under immense pressure.
“I find it disgusting that Alex Salmond and his hangers-on spent £470,000 going on a Ryder Cup junket to America while there aren’t enough staff to meet cancer waiting times.
“The Scottish Government needs to increase staff and make more resources available.”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of Scotland Patients’ Association said it was a “scandal”.
She added: “The NHS has been shaved too fine. I know for a fact we are too short of staff. Staff are under increasing pressure meaning they are more likely to make mistakes.
“The situation also means health boards won’t meet their waiting list targets as we’ve seen with cancer patients.
“The new patient charter that was introduced in October meaning patients who aren’t treated in time could sue the NHS.
“The situation we are in could see a surge in claims pouring in.
“We need more nurse, doctors, and most importantly more beds across the whole of Scotland.”
Scotland has 2,000 fewer nurses working now since the SNP came into power.
Tory deputy leader, Jackson Carlaw, said: “For someone told they may have cancer, having to wait more than two months for treatment is a lifetime and they deserve to be seen much sooner.
“The NHS in Scotland has a record amount of funding, yet we know there are 2,000 less nurses which is a result of the SNP’s poor stewardship of the health service.
“The fact staffing issues and a lack of equipment are causing such delays in treating cancer patients is further evidence that diverting millions of pounds for free prescriptions is having a detrimental effect on the front line.”
The Scottish Government has set a target of having 95% of all cancer patients start treatment within the 31 and 62 day timescale.
A Government spokesman said the targets were largely being met, and that the “percentage of breaches relating to staffing issues” had remained stable at around 0.5% for the past two years.