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 December 2020.

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 3,502 eligible referrals for the 62-day standard, an increase of 14.9% from the previous quarter, but a decrease of 5.9% on the same period in 2019.
  • 86.2% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 87.3% in the previous quarter, and 83.7% for quarter ending December 2019.
  • The 62-day standard was only met by NHS Tayside, whose performance was 97.1%.

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 5,697 eligible referrals within the 31-day standard, an increase of 14.7% from the previous quarter and a decrease of 10.6% on the same period in 2019.
  • 98.6% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 98.4% in the previous quarter and 96.5% for quarter ending September 2019.
  • The 31-day standard was met by all NHS Boards except NHS Highland (94.7%).
Image caption NHS Scotland performance against the 62 and 31-day standards1
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.

1. Figures based on data snapshot (28/02/2021) using patient-level data.


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, with the increase in eligible referrals between October and December 2020 largely due to the increase in referrals from the breast screening programme, following the re-start of the programme. (All three cancer screening programmes were paused in March 2020, with no new invitations sent out). 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 29 June 2021.

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
Was this page helpful?