The Scottish Government’s ambition is for 95 per cent of those who are referred because cancer is suspected to be treated within two months.
But official figures showed that in the period from April to June this year, only 86.9 per cent of patients began receiving help within 62 days – down from 88.1 per cent in the previous quarter.
Health Secretary Shona Robison responded by announcing a new delivery group is to be set up to improve waiting times for diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients and conceded that “some waits are too long”.
Janice Preston, head of Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland, said: “Waiting times for cancer treatment are now worse than they were 10 years ago when targets were first introduced. Waiting to start treatment is an incredibly stressful time for most people. It’s vital the reasons behind these delays are understood and a solution found.
“But we need a long-term solution, not a temporary fix. The cancer care system must adapt to meet the challenge of supporting the vastly increased numbers of people with cancer.”
Only three health boards in Scotland – NHS Dumfries and Galloway, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Orkney – met the key cancer waiting times target.
The NHS statistics showed the 95 per cent target was achieved only for breast cancer patients.
Almost one in five patients with head and neck cancer had to wait longer than two months for treatment to begin, with 80.8 per cent beginning their care within 62 days.
And less than three quarters (71.6 per cent) of those being treated for urological cancers started treatment in this time.
There were 3,493 patients who were urgently referred because cancer was suspected over the period April to June, a rise of 11.6 per cent on the same period in 2016.
To improve cancer waiting times the Scottish Government will provide £1million of funding to roll out new technology which will allow consultants to report on diagnostic scans taken anywhere in the country.
Ms Robison said this would help “address short-falls in capacity in some areas”.
In addition, ministers are providing £3million to increase the number of radiology trainees in Scotland by a minimum of 50 over the next five years.
Ms Robison stressed she was “determined to go further” to help cancer patients. She said: “The average wait for cancer treatment is six days.
“However, some waits are too long and the new delivery group will report back to me in early 2018 with recommendations to enhance cancer…