Severe Delays in Cancer Treatment Due to Staff Shortages and Equipment Issues

Staff shortages, equipment failures, and high demand are causing “devastating delays” for cancer patients in Scotland, with a fifth of patients waiting over 84 days to start treatment.

Figures show that from January to March this year, only 70.4% of patients started treatment within the 62-day target after an urgent referral, down from 83.7% in 2019 and far from the 95% target last achieved in 2012. Grampian region saw the worst delays, with 33% of patients waiting over 84 days due to capacity issues in diagnostic services, as the health board admitted demand “outweighs available capacity”.

It also said annual leave around the festive season, school holidays, and staff using up their holiday allowances before the end of the financial year exacerbated delays.

Meanwhile, since October, hundreds of Grampian breast cancer patients have had to travel to Forth Valley for treatment and surgery as they wait for the appointment of a new specialist consultant at their local hospital.

Medical Negligence

Increased Cancer Referrals

Figures show overall, cancer referrals have risen by over 15% since 2019, with significant increases in prostate cancer cases driven by heightened awareness following King Charles’ diagnosis.

Referral rates for patients diagnosed with prostate cancer have more than doubled, from 19 per 100,000 adults at the end of 2019 to a record high of 40 per 100,000 at the beginning of this year. But nearly half of prostate cancer patients now wait over 84 days for treatment, with Grampian, Lothian, and Fife experiencing the longest delays.

Kate Seymour of Macmillan Cancer Support criticised the lack of resources, stating that the NHS is failing cancer patients.

She said the data “shows that far too many people living with cancer are still facing devastating delays in treatment and diagnosis, causing huge amounts of anxiety and throwing lives into chaos”.

She added: “Despite the tireless efforts of NHS staff, people with cancer are being failed by a health care system that is not being given the resources it needs to support them.
“The Scottish Government must take action to ensure people living with cancer get the care they need before the situation gets any worse.

“That means bolstering the cancer workforce and investing in equipment to ensure people are diagnosed early, treated quickly and supported through all the impacts cancer can have on their lives.”

Ten out of 15 health boards met the 31-day treatment standard post-diagnosis, but Grampian and Highland lagged behind, with around 10% of cancer patients left to wait longer than 31 days.

The NHS Trusts cited issues involving broken equipment, bed capacity and technical faults for the delays.
NHS Ayrshire and Arran said issues with CT and MRI scanners were “out of use due to part failure” for short periods at the beginning of the year, as well as staff shortages in pathology.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway – which is currently reliant on a single CT scanner – said it was battling a “significant backlog in imaging” as a result, in addition to a “sustained increase” in cancer referrals which was particularly impacting its prostate and colorectal pathways.

NHS Fife said the breakdown of its PET scanner had “created long delays within the lung pathway”, with increased waits for surgery due to “robotic theatre capacity issues”.

In Forth Valley, a “technical fault” with a bone scanner caused delays, there were workforce challenges “across all specialities”, and bed capacity was described as “very challenging” – though it stressed that cancer remains “a priority in terms of surgery and diagnostics”.

But more needs to be done to ensure hospitals and healthcare settings are equipped with the correct equipment and staff to ensure all patients in Scotland can be seen within the target waiting time. Delays to appointments, scans and treatment may lead to your condition worsening resulting in you needing more invasive treatments.

If you have suffered an injury due to Cancer delays, you may be entitled to claim compensation.

What is a medical delay?

If you have suffered an injury due to delays in NHS treatment, you may be entitled to claim for compensation. This may include delays in diagnosing your condition due to not having the facilities to carry out a scan or treatment within the target time frame. It may also refer to a medical professional failing to recognise symptoms, meaning you are diagnosed late.


If the treatment you received fell below a minimum standard of competence and you suffered an injury as a result and it is more likely than not that the injury could have been avoided or less severe with proper treatment then you may be able to take legal action for compensation.

This can encompass delays in referrals, scans and other investigations. It can also include medical professionals overlooking symptoms or records that are re-reviewed at a later date and urgently acted upon once the delay has been identified.


Who can claim and what do I need to prove to make a claim?

If the treatment you received fell below a minimum standard of competence and you suffered an injury as a result and it is more likely than not that the injury could have been avoided or less severe with proper treatment then you may be able to take legal action for compensation.


If you’re the next of kin of someone who has died because of negligent clinical care or who can’t take legal action themselves because they don’t have the capacity, you may be able to take legal action for compensation on their behalf.


To receive compensation, you will need to show both ‘breach of duty of care’ and ‘causation’ has taken place.


Medical negligence


What is breach of duty of care?

The health practitioner must have acted in a way which fell short of acceptable professional standards. Known as the ‘Bolam’ principle, this tests whether the actions of the health professional in question could be supported by a ‘responsible body of clinical opinion’. This test is not about what ‘could have been done’ – that other health professionals might have done something differently, but whether it ‘should have been done’ – would a ‘responsible body’ of health professionals support the action taken?


What is causation?

The harm suffered must be shown, on the balance of probabilities, to be directly linked with the failure of the health professional to meet appropriate standards.

For a successful claim, it will need to be proven that both a breach of duty of care and causation occurred to be entitled to receive compensation.

How long do I have to make a claim?

Compensation claims for personal injury are subject to a ‘limitation period’ of three years. A claimant must issue their claim at court within three years of the alleged negligence taking place or within three years of becoming aware that something went wrong. Individuals who lack ‘capacity’ (under 18 years of age or without the mental ability to make the necessary decisions) are not subject to a limitation period.


Why should I use Oakwood Scotland Solicitors?

At Oakwood Scotland Solicitors, we have a dedicated team of solicitors and paralegals who have many years of experience between them in running cases of this nature. They are highly trained to deal with all aspects of clinical and medical negligence.


Oakwood Scotland Solicitors wishes to ensure that clients are not overwhelmed by legal jargon or medical terms that they don’t understand and aims to allow the claims procedure to be as transparent as possible.


Further reading

Clinical Negligence  – Oakwood Scotland Solicitors


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