About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) presents the quarterly update of cancer waiting times statistics, reporting two national standards on how long patients waited for their first cancer treatment. This release covers patients who started their first treatment by 30 June 2021; comparison is made with the latest quarterly figures available before the pandemic.

Main points

The 62-day standard states that 95% of eligible patients should wait a maximum of 62 days from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

  • There were 3,953 eligible referrals for the 62-day standard, an increase of 10.1% from the previous quarter. This is a return to levels observed before the pandemic (3,833 in quarter ending 31 March 2020).
  • 84.1% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 83.0% in the previous quarter, and 84.7% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.

The 31-day standard states that 95% of all patients should wait no more than 31 days from decision to treat to first cancer treatment.

  • There were 6,322 eligible referrals within the 31-day standard, an increase of 9.2% from the previous quarter, similar to the 6,460 eligible referrals made in the quarter before the pandemic (quarter ending 31 March 2020).
  • 98.1% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 97.7% in the previous quarter and 96.2% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.
Image caption NHS Scotland performance against the 62 and 31-day standards
  • The 62-day standard was not met by any of the NHS boards. In contrast, the 31-day standard was met by all fifteen NHS Boards.


Current standards for cancer waiting times are that 95% of all eligible patients should wait no longer than 31 or 62 days (Action Plan (external website)), with a 5% tolerance level due to clinical appropriateness. PHS works in partnership with the Scottish Government Cancer Access Team and NHS boards to monitor NHS Scotland’s performance against these national standards for 10 main cancers.

The 62-day standard applies to patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer by a primary care clinician, general dental physician, patients referred by one of the national cancer screening programmes, and direct referrals to hospital where the signs and symptoms are consistent with the cancer diagnosed, as per the Scottish referral guidelines e.g. self-referral to A&E.

The 31-day standard applies to all patients, regardless of the route of referral. Golden Jubilee National Hospital is only reported against the 31-day standard as it is only involved in treatment.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the results, some boards have highlighted that staffing and capacity issues continue to impact on performance in the latest quarter (eg. self-isolation, social distancing, cleaning time between patients). The number of eligible referrals has increased across most NHS boards and across a number of cancer types and nationally is at a level seen before Covid-19.  

Find out more

The next release of this publication will be 14 December 2021.

NHS Performs

A selection of information from this publication is included in NHS Performs. NHS Performs is a website that brings together a range of information on how hospitals and NHS boards within NHSScotland are performing

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.cancerwaitsnew@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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