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 September 2020 are presented by NHS Board, Regional Cancer Network and cancer type. This release covers those patients who started their first treatment by the end of September 2020. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have impacted the results.

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 3,050 eligible referrals for the 62-day standard, almost no change from the previous quarter, but a decrease of 22.1% from the same period in 2019.
  • 87.3% of patients started treatment within the 62-day standard, compared to 84.1% in the previous quarter, and 83.3% for quarter ending September 2019.
  • The 62-day standard was met by five NHS Boards. NHS Boards’ performance ranged from 71.6% (NHS Highland) to 100% (NHS Shetland, NHS Western Isles).

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 4,970 eligible referrals within the 31-day standard, a decrease of 1.7% from the previous quarter and a decrease of 23.9% from the same period in 2019.
  • 98.4% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard, compared with 97.1% in the previous quarter and 95.8% in the quarter ending September 2019.
  • The 31-day standard was met by all NHS Boards.
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 (20 November 2020) using patient-level data.


The current standards for cancer waiting times are that 95% of all eligible patients should wait no longer than 31 or 62 days (Action Plan). The 5% tolerance level is because for some patients, it may not be clinically appropriate for treatment to begin within the target time. PHS works in partnership with the Scottish Government Cancer Access Team and NHS Boards to measure NHS Scotland’s performance against these National Standards. The standards are for 10 main cancer types.

The 62-day standard applies to patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer by a primary care clinician or general dental physician, 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. Golden Jubilee National Hospital is only reported against the 31-day standard as it is only involved in treatment.

The reduction in eligible referrals since March is likely to be due to a combination of patients not seeking treatment and delays in patients having diagnostic tests or starting treatment because hospitals have been treating Covid-19 patients. From early March, the three screening programmes for cancer were paused, with no new invitations sent out. Invitations for both breast and cervical screening both started to slowly resume from 13 July and from 12 October for bowel screening.

Further information

Data from this publication are available from the the data files section of this page.

The next release of this publication will be 30 March 2021.

Some information from this publication is included in NHS Performs (external website), which brings together 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: 28 June 2021
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