A staggering 100,000 people were waiting for cancer diagnostic tests in Scotland at the end of 2020 – a 15 per cent jump in a year.
Figures released by Public Health Scotland show the scale of the backlogs growing as a result of the pandemic.
Cancer charities said they were “deeply concerned” and opposition politicians called it “a catastrophe waiting to happen”.
Data on waiting times for eight key cancer diagnostic tests showed 100,913 patients waiting to be seen on December 31, down slightly on the end of September.
Kirsty Slack, of Cancer Research UK, said: “The pandemic has led to a worrying drop in the number of people being diagnosed with cancer and starting treatment.
“While services are slowly recovering, we remain deeply concerned about the ongoing backlog of people waiting to receive these crucial tests and get a diagnosis.
“Waiting to find out if you have cancer is an anxious time for people, so clearing the backlog is essential.”
She said the Scottish Government recovery plan for cancer services was “welcome” but staff shortages in cancer services “must be addressed as a priority”.
The fall-out from Covid on NHS services has left thousands waiting on tests and treatment. More than two-fifths of them had been waiting longer than the targeted waiting time of six weeks.
Patients awaiting an endoscopy numbered 31,637 and of those 67.8 per cent had been waiting longer than six weeks – and 5866 had been waiting up to a year for their tests and 1236 had been waiting more than a year.
Those awaiting treatment are also suffering because of Covid with the latest figures showing just 73.8 per cent of patients treated within 18 weeks of referral. With non-urgent cases mothballed at the height of the first lockdown, services have been hit badly.
Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie called the figures “a catastrophe waiting to happen”.
She added: “A route plan out of lockdown will depend on a functioning NHS that can handle the problems stored up throughout the pandemic but with so many missed targets it is hard to see how services will cope.
“It is a blow for the thousands who will suffer because of a delayed diagnosis and will miss vital treatment for serious illness.
“Thanks to SNP mismanagement our health services are at risk of collapse.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Cancer services have been, and will remain, a top priority. NHS Scotland remains on an emergency footing where health boards are seeing and treating patients based on their clinical urgency.
“More than 24,500 patients across 14 specialities have been seen at the Louisa Jordan, and we have made more than £77million available to boards to support elective activity, in addition to £7million made available for endoscopy services.”
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