The Executive had aimed to ensure that all cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent referral from their GP. New health service figures reveal that a quarter of cancer patients were not referred within that time between October and December 2005. Delays have also worsened for some types of cancer, including bowel, skin and stomach cancers.
The target specified that from the beginning of 2006, the maximum waiting time between urgent referral and treatment should be two months. However the latest statistics have shown that across Scotland, only 74% of cases met that deadline, compared with 75% during the previous three months. And in certain types of cancer less than 70% of the cases met the target. The latest figures for the first quarter of 2006, the initial period for which the targets apply seem most likely to fall short of the objectives.
Mr Kerr while admitting that the latest figures were "not good enough", he said that he personally felt frustrated and he said that he knows how distressing it would be for people to have to wait longer for the required treatment.
Shona Robison, the SNP's health spokeswoman, said cancer patients were being let down by the Scottish Executive. While stating that it was right on the minister to have apologised, she said that that the most important thing for him, to do was to try and fix the problem.
Meanwhile the cancer charities have expressed concern at the lack of progress on reducing waits. Anna Wood, campaigns and policy manager at Breast Cancer Care, said: "It is unacceptable for any cancer patient to be forced to endure treatment delays." Jenny Whelan, the head of Cancer backup Scotland, said: that they receive many calls to their help line from anxious patients concerned about delays with their treatment, at a time when they should be focusing on trying to recover.