The number of Scots receiving urgent referrals for cancer treatment has rocketed over the last four years, figures show.

Outpatient referrals marked by doctors as "urgent, suspicion of cancer" have jumped from 96,000 in 2018/19 to 171,000 in 2022/23.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the country's largest health board, saw referral figures increase from 25,000 pre-pandemic to a shocking 43,000 in 2022/23.

NHS Lothian recorded 10,000 more referrals for the same period.

Scottish Labour, which uncovered the figures, claimed the dramatic spike in urgent referrals was likely due to overstretched services and the Scottish Government failing to invest in primary care.

Jackie Baillie, the party's health spokeswoman, said SNP ministers had repeatedly failed to meet their government's own key performance targets for cancer treatment.

The official target is for 95 per cent of patients to start receiving treatment within 62 days if they have been referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer.

But the performance slumped to 69.4 per cent of patients in the first three months of 2023, down from 71.7 per cent

The Government published its latest cancer strategy earlier this year but has not outlined when it will deliver improvements by.

Baillie said: "Cancer remains Scotland’s biggest killer and yet this SNP Government has time and time again failed to take the decisive action needed to save lives.

"Every loved one lost to cancer is a tragedy. It is absolutely crucial that everybody afflicted by cancer has early access to high-quality treatment and care.

"This surge in suspected cancer referrals is not just down to Covid. It’s a result of the repeated failures by SNP Health Ministers to get a grip on this deadly disease.

"After 16 years of SNP government, we are now left with another cancer strategy that is wholly inadequate, whilst Ministers drag their heels on a proper action plan and put more lives on the line.

"For months, Scottish Labour has been calling for a proper diagnostic catch-up plan and action to address the issues facing cancer care and workforce pressures, but these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

"The time for warm words is over. Michael Matheson must take immediate action, invest in primary care and come up with a proper workforce plan to reverse this crisis before any more lives are lost."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Cancer remains a national priority for the NHS and Scottish Government which is why we have published a new ten year strategy, improving all areas of cancer care from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care.

"This will improve cancer survival and provide equitable access to treatment.

"The pandemic had a significant impact on all aspects of health and social care, and cancer services were no exception.

"Through continued investment in the Detect Cancer Earlier Programme and by activating additional Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Services across Scotland we aim to further reduce late stage diagnosis.”

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