FMQs: Humza Yousaf “risking lives” by failing cancer patients (updated)

28 September 2023

It’s the news no one wants to hear from their GP, that you are suffering from cancer.

And it’s certainly no consolation to be told that you will have to wait months treatment and a consultation with a consultant.

But that’s the way of things are right now in NHS Scotland where services are crumbling like the concrete holding up hospital ceilings.

Humza Yousaf is “putting lives at risk” by failing to help cancer patients who have been forced to travel outside of Scotland for faster, private treatment, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

At First Minister’s Questions, Douglas Ross raised the cases of cancer patients who have been handed long waiting times of several months and felt the need to pay thousands of pounds to go to England for treatment.

The Scottish Conservative leader also raised a new Freedom of Information response received by the party, which showed that one patient has waited more than five months to start chemotherapy treatment.

Official statistics published on Tuesday showed that one in four Scottish patients suspected of having cancer don’t start treatment within the 62-day target.

This week, patient Margaret McCall described her ordeal when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She faced a wait of three months for NHS treatment in Scotland, so she used £27,000 of her life savings for faster private treatment in England.

Mrs McCall said: “Cancer kills if left untreated and the Scottish Government is allowing this to happen. We shouldn’t have to go to London or elsewhere.”

Another woman, Irene Hartshorn, was told she needed to wait 12 weeks for ovarian cancer surgery.

She told the Scottish Conservatives: “I felt powerless. You know that all the time the illness is getting worse and worse…If I had waited, I think I would be dead by now.”

Her sister paid for her to get faster private treatment in London.

The charity Target Ovarian Cancer says Scotland has one of the worst survival rates in Europe.

Conservative Leader Douglas Ross, left,  said: “Cancer patients need urgent treatment to save their lives. But in the SNP-run NHS, they wait months.

“People from the most deprived areas are much more likely to die from cancer already. As waiting times grow, they will only suffer more since they can’t afford to go outwith Scotland for treatment.

“The SNP must put the resources in place so people in Scotland can get urgent cancer care when they need it.

“Humza Yousaf is putting lives at risk by failing to reduce lengthy cancer waiting times.

“People are having to spend their life savings so they can go elsewhere for the life-saving treatment they need.

“Humza Yousaf was health secretary for two years and cancer waiting times grew. How is he going to sort it now that he’s First Minister?”

Commenting after FMQs Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, right,  said “This week statistics revealed that one in four cancer patients have faced delays in treatment and not one of Scotland’s Health Boards met the 62-day standard for starting treatment.

“So far this year there have been 398 more cancer deaths than experts would have expected – avoidable and unnecessary deaths.

“The truth is the First Minister has become complacent in the fight against Scotland’s biggest killer.

“This week it was also revealed that life expectancy in Scotland has dropped again, falling back to a level not seen for over 10 years. There is no starker indication of failure than that.

“Humza Yousaf must apologise for this lost decade on the SNP’s watch.  Every cancer delay raises the chance of avoidable death, but an a FOI request has revealed the dire reality for too many patients.

“Some breast cancer patients have waited 191 days for diagnosis and treatment.  A cervical cancer patient waited 217 days.  A prostate cancer patient waited 334.

“There was even a cancer patient that waited 385 days for diagnosis and to start treatment.  Over a year of anxiety before getting the help they needed.

“The First Minister must be able to see what even his own benches can see – that the SNP has lost its way, has gotten complacent and no longer puts the interest of Scotland’s people first.”Cancer waiting times:

  • 73.7% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard.
  • There were 4,299 eligible referrals, 1,130 of which waited over the 62 days to start treatment


Excess cancer deaths in Scotland (2023 to date)

Deaths caused by Malignant Neoplasms:

2017-2019, 2021-2022
2023 Number of excess deaths
Quarter 1 (Jan-March) 4,064 4,322 258
Quarter 2 (April – 3,958 4,098 140
Total 8,022 8,420 398


Life Expectancy

  • Life expectancy in Scotland was 76.5 years for males and 80.7 years for females in 2020-2022 – a fall of 3 weeks for males and 5.7 weeks for females since 2019-2021.
  • Life expectancy is now back to the same levels as in 2010 – 2012:

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