NHS Tayside has been forced to outsource biopsy work to England due to an inability to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of staff, it has been revealed.
A Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) review of cancer treatment in the north of Scotland found as a result of “service pressures”, the board is now relying on core biopsies analysis south of the border in order to meet demand.
A core biopsy, a process during which a needle is passed through the skin to take a tissue sample, is often performed when a suspicious mass or lump is discovered, or if an abnormality is found on an imaging test such as an x-ray.
HIS noted due to issues in recruiting and retaining pathologists, there is currently “a lot of pressure” on services, creating a “knock-on effect” on cancer service delivery.
NHS Tayside confirmed all clinically presumed cancer biopsies are still being carried out locally to ensure results are “received in the most timely way possible”.
The recently-established North Cancer Alliance (NCA), which covers the three cancer centres in NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and NHS Tayside, coordinates cancer services for patients across the whole of the north of Scotland.
The report states: “A number of the North Cancer Alliance clinical directors and pathway board managers informed the group that NHS Tayside and NHS Grampian both currently have a number of pathology vacancies.
“As the recruitment of pathologists is an emerging/re-occurring theme, the North Cancer Alliance are trying to work with NHS boards to facilitate a regional solution to ensure the demand is met instead of competing for resources.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said health services “deserve better and must have enough staff to deliver the care people need”.
She said: “There are deep-rooted financial problems at NHS Tayside – it was just last year that board papers revealed plans under consideration to cut the workforce by 10 per cent.
“It’s unacceptable – the financial chaos and risk that has plagued NHS Tayside is not the fault of its loyal and dedicated workforce nor is it fair on the patients.”
North East MSP Bill Bowman said the failure to recruit and retain health professionals “has gone on for too long”.
The HIS review also recognised improvements made in the regional cancer network and noted centres have demonstrated a commitment to working together more closely and had made efforts to involve patients in their treatment choices.
It praised NHS Tayside for providing an open access assessment clinic for breast cancer which allows patients to have all of their pre-surgery assessments in a single day.
A spokeswoman for the health board said: “Our pathology service is experiencing challenges due to a small number of workforce vacancies and increased demand. These challenges are similar to demands seen by other health boards across Scotland.
“NHS Tayside currently outsources a small number of gynaecological and skin biopsies. These are all non-cancer, non-urgent tests.”