About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) presents the quarterly update of Cancer Waiting Times statistics. It reports on the two waiting times standards used to measure how long patients have waited for their first cancer treatment. Data for the quarter ending March 2020 are presented by NHS Board, Regional Cancer Network and cancer type.

Main points

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

  • 84.7% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 83.7% in the previous quarter, and 81.4% for quarter ending March 2019.
  • The 62-day standard was met by two NHS Boards: NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders. For the Boards that did not meet the standard, performance ranged from 71.4% (NHS Orkney) to 92.2% (NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Tayside).

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

  • 96.1% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 96.5% in the previous quarter and 94.9% for quarter ending March 2019.
  • The 31-day standard was met by 12 NHS Boards. The Boards that did not meet the standard were NHS Highland (93.1%), Golden Jubilee National Hospital (87.6%) and NHS Shetland (84.6%).
Image caption NHSScotland performance against the 62-day and 31-day standards1
Line graph showing the percentage of patients that were treated within both the 31 and 62-day standards by quarter. The chart also includes a horizontal line to represent the 95% standard. Data for the 31 and 62-day standards are shown in different colours.

1. Figures based on data snapshot (28/05/2020)


Only those patients which have started their first treatment are included within the publication, as such the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are not yet apparent.

In October 2008, the Scottish Government published Better Cancer Care - An Action Plan. The statements in the Action Plan formed the basis for the current standards for cancer waiting times where 95% of all eligible patients should wait no longer than 31 or 62 days. The 5% tolerance level was applied to these targets as, for some patients, it may not have been clinically appropriate for treatment to begin within target. In March 2016, the Scottish Government published Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action.

PHS works in partnership with the Scottish Government Cancer Performance Support Team and NHS Boards to measure NHS Scotland’s performance against the National Standards and to provide a wide range of users with faster access to the statistics they need.

The 62-day standard applies to patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer by a primary care clinician, screened positive patients referred through a national cancer screening programme, 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.

The standards are based on the 10 main cancer types: breast, cervical, colorectal, head & neck, lung, lymphoma, ovarian, melanoma, upper gastro-intestinal (hepato-pancreato-biliary and oesophago-gastric), and urological (prostate, bladder, other).

Golden Jubilee National Hospital is only reported against the 31-day standard since they do not refer patients but are involved in the treatment stage.

The figures presented use patient level data taken as at a snapshot (on 28 May 2020).

Further information

​Find out more in the full report which includes the metadata document in the appendices. The data from this publication is available in Excel format from this page as well as in open data format from the NSS Open Data portal (external website). For more information on Cancer Waiting Times see the Cancer Waiting Times section of the ISD website (external website).

The next release of this publication will be 29 September 2020.

NHS Performs

A selection of information from this publication is included in NHS Performs (external website). 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.

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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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