Staff shortage risks undermining Scottish Government’s five-year cancer strategy

Staff shortages within the NHS risk undermining the Scottish Government’s £100 million cancer strategy, a new report has found.

A review of the five-year plan at its half-way point found the majority of its objectives were on track, but it raised concerns about the ability of the workforce to meet rising demand on services, particularly across diagnostics.

Around 32,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer each year, expected to reach 40,000 by 2027.

The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Cancer, which compiled the report, heard evidence that efforts to increase diagnostic capacity were being hindered by staffing levels.

Gregor McNie (pictured), head of external affairs in Scotland for Cancer Research UK, said: “A great deal of progress has been made in the implementation of the strategy and we’re really pleased to see the Scottish Government is on course to meet its £100 million funding commitment.

“However, significant staffing shortages remain a serious concern and the Scottish Government must now plan and deliver for a fully resourced Scottish cancer workforce both now and in the future.”

The strategy, due to be fully implemented by 2021, is aimed at getting more cancers diagnosed and treated quicker.

A large majority – 47 out of 54 – of its actions and investments have been completed or are on track, the report found.

It highlights progress in areas including tackling obesity, and tobacco and alcohol use – all linked to cancer.

But the group’s co-convenors, Miles Briggs and Anas Sarwar, said urgent action was needed to address staff shortages.

Labour MSP Mr Sarwar said: “The laudable aims of the Cancer Strategy simply can’t be delivered unless the staffing crisis in our NHS is addressed.

“The extra investment in cancer services is welcome, and a lot of progress has been made, which this report recognises.

“But years of workforce mismanagement are taking their toll, and it is cancer patients who are being let down as a result.”

Tory MSP Mr Briggs said: “The SNP government has been warned for years about the dire consequences of poor workforce planning and the Cross Party Group’s inquiry highlights this neglect.

“If Ministers continue to ignore these warnings, cancer patients across Scotland will pay the price.

“The Scottish Government now needs to show some leadership in the delivery of cancer services across Scotland if the SNP is actually going to meet the targets it has set out in the Cancer Strategy ahead of 2021.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was due to meet members of the Scottish Cancer Coalition on Thursday to discuss the strategy.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the cross-party group’s report recognises, 87% of the actions in the strategy have either been completed or are on track.

“We recognise there can be challenges in recruiting the right specialist staff for some services.

“That’s why the Scottish Cancer Taskforce is feeding into the development of the Scottish Government Integrated Workforce Plan, which aims to address workforce needs across Scotland.

“Under this government there has been a 66% increase in consultant oncologists and a 45% rise in consultant radiologists in Scotland’s NHS – which as a whole has seen seven consecutive years of growth in workforce numbers, to historically high levels.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Cancer Research.