I have consistently pointed out to national health service board chairs at our monthly meetings that I expect every effort to be made to deliver the necessary 95 per cent performance level. The Scottish Executive is providing additional support in the form of an expert team to assist boards in achieving and sustaining that target. Following the additional measures taken by the Health Department, I expect the target to be achieved by April 2007 and consistently maintained thereafter. All boards have been asked to confirm in writing that they will achieve that.
I remind the minister that the target was supposed to have been met by the end of last year. Is he aware that, back in July last year, he said that action would be taken to reduce waiting times, that in October last year he said that he would be closely monitoring future performance, that in March this year he said that he would closely monitor how each board performed, that in June he said that he would probe long waits, and that this month he has said that hit squads would be sent into boards that underperform? He will understand that we now want action rather than words. How can he reassure us that firm action will indeed be taken this time to address the huge regional variations that exist in cancer waiting times in Scotland? Will he commit to reporting to Parliament on an on-going basis on the progress that is being made in health boards?
As ever, we have no recognition from the SNP of the lowest ever waiting times in our national health service history and no recognition of the hard work of the staff involved—but that is the SNP's prerogative, not mine.
Shona Robison should be aware—but clearly is not—that the published figures are six to nine months old, so she should recognise that the figures that we published lately are from April to June of this year. Many of the measures that I have put in place give me the assurance that we will be able to perform as we should.
Of course, it is not all bad news. I can reassure patients in Scotland that colorectal cancer performance is up 14 per cent, lung cancer performance is up 12 per cent and blood cancer
It is unfortunate that the target has not been met for 31 patients out of a total of 181. I have set in train a number of measures and have sought reassurance from boards, because there are no excuses for not meeting the target by the date that I mentioned in my initial response.
Given the failure to meet targeted cancer waiting times so far, does the minister still think that it is wise to promise that by the end of next year patients will wait no more than nine weeks for magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans and other key diagnostic tests?
Yes, I do. If the member had paid any attention to the recent performance statistics from our national health service, she would have seen that the trajectory for performance delivery on that target is secure. Therefore, the £50 million investment that this Executive is making in the key diagnostic tests will deliver for patients and will do so by the date that we have set.