The Royal College of Radiologists has painted a bleak picture of staffing pressures that affect cancer treatment services in Scotland. In every cancer centre, treatment has been delayed by staff shortages. The quality of patient care has been compromised. Only 10 per cent of clinical directors think that they have enough staff. The Scottish National Party’s sticking-plaster solution is to outsource services to the private sector. It is spending £14 million to meet the demand for imaging—money that, instead, could have employed 139 full-time consultants—and £10 million on scans. The president of the Royal College of Radiologists has said:
“There is no luxury of time: doctors are stretched, stressed, and scared for their patients.”
Having such vacancies causes harm to cancer patients. What exactly will the First Minister do to stop that?
We are taking a range of actions primarily to ensure that we have more oncologists and more members of the medical workforce who are able to provide those important services. For example, as I referenced in an earlier answer, since 2006 there has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of clinical radiology consultants. We now have 97 per cent more consultant oncologists as well.
However, I recognise that there are vacancies in some parts of the country where there are shortages of oncology staff. For example, we know about the situation in the breast cancer treatment service in Tayside. That is why we have set up a national oncology co-ordination group that consists of clinical leads and managers from each centre to collaborate so that they can support one another in addressing the service pressures that Jackie Baillie and other members have mentioned.
We also know the impact that the pandemic had, particularly when we had to take the incredibly difficult decision to pause cancer screening for a number of months. We have therefore seen significant pressure on the system. In the latest quarter, more patients were treated on both the 62-day and 31-day pathways than were treated in the same quarter in the previous year.
We will continue to invest in our workforce and aim to see as many patients as we can, but I do not take away at all from the premise of Jackie Baillie’s question, which is right: we need to do even more to ensure that we are plugging those vacancies and giving patients absolutely the best support and treatment, which is what they need and deserve.