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 31 March 2021.

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 3,601 eligible referrals for the 62-day standard, an increase of 2.9% from the previous quarter, but a decrease of 6.1% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.
  • 83% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 86.1% in the previous quarter, and 84.7% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.
  • The 62-day standard was met by two NHS Boards, NHS Borders and NHS Shetland.

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 5,816 eligible referrals within the 31-day standard, an increase of 2.1% from the previous quarter but a decrease of 10% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.
  • 97.7% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 98.6% in the previous quarter and 96.2% for quarter ending 31 March 2020.
  • The 31-day standard was met by all NHS Boards except NHS Highland (94.9%).


Image caption NHS Scotland performance against the 62 and 31-day standards
Line graph showing the percentage of patients that were treated within both the 31 and 62-day standards by quarter. Data for the 31 and 62-day standards are shown in different colours.


Current standards for cancer waiting times are that 95% of all eligible patients should wait no longer than 31 or 62 days (Action Plan), 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 have impacted on performance in the latest quarter (eg. self-isolation, social distancing, cleaning time between patients). The increase in eligible referrals is largely due to the increase in referrals from the three screening programmes, following the re-start of the programmes. While the screening figures were lower in previous quarters symptomatic numbers were higher so it may be these patients were seen via the GP. (All three cancer screening programmes were paused in March 2020). Invitations for breast and cervical screening started to resume slowly from 13 July and from 12 October for bowel screening.

Find out more

Open data from this publication is available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform (external website).

The next release of this publication will be 28 September 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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