NICOLA Sturgeon has said Brexit is making recruitment of oncologists and radiologists "more challenging" as she was pressed on NHS waiting times by Douglas Ros at FMQs.

The Scottish Tory leader said twice as many Scots were waiting more than three months for key diagnostic tests compared to last year.

He also highlighted how 10,613 people have waited more than two years for treatment on the NHS compared to 648 this time last year.

Sturgeon said though that there are "tentative signs" of improvement despite the pandemic and insisted Brexit was creating problems for recruitment which would help to reverse waits for tests.

Ross said: "I have a constituent in Lossie who has been waiting four and a half years since first seeing his doctor to getting the operation he needs. Four and a half years is far longer than the pandemic.

"Twice as many Scots are waiting over three months for key diagnostic tests as they were last year. This morning, the President of the Royal College of Radiology said for every four-week delay to diagnosis of cancer, your risk of dying increases by 10 per cent.

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"First Minister, if our NHS is currently in this position, how bad is it going to be by winter when more people need treatment and will you act now instead of waiting for the crisis to strike like you did last year?"

Sturgeon said in response: "We are starting to see some tentative signs of progress.

"Since this government took office there has been a 95% increase in the consultant oncologist workforce, there has been a 63% increase in the consultant radiologist workforce.

"Recruitment within these professions is challenging nationally and globally, made more challenging by Brexit, it has to be said.  

"We are working with health boards on new approaches to maximise capacity and as the Royal College report also says the increasing use of imaging networks in Scotland is going from strength to strength. These are challenges that are inescapable."

Ross raised the case of a heart patient who has been given an appointment in July 2024, a case which has been widely shared on social media, and said the pandemic can't be blamed for everything. 

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But Sturgeon insisted the Scottish Government was investing heavily in the NHS and waiting times had shown signs of improvement in the most recent quarter. 

She added: "There are more people now waiting for NHS treatment. That is why our NSH recovery plan is so important, which is to improve waiting times generally but also to ensure health boards are targeting those who are waiting the longest.

"Before the pandemic we were seeing progress in reducing waiting times. Given the pressures at that time on the NHS, the pandemic obviously had a significant impact but in terms of the statistics published recently, we are starting to see tentative signs of improvement.

"In the most recent quarter, we saw an increasing number of first outpatient appointments and we saw a slight reduction in those waiting 12 weeks.

"This is challenging for the NHS, it can’t be otherwise given the impact of a two-year pandemic, but the government is supporting health boards to ensure that recovery happens and as part of that ensuring those waiting longest for treatment are seen as quickly as possible."