Fears cost and staffing cuts are taking their toll on the frontline of the NHS were raised yesterday after new figures showed the number of people queuing for over eight hours has more than doubled in three years.
Last year, 5097 people were stuck in emergency departments for more than eight hours and 882 had to wait in excess of 12 hours. This compares to 2190 and 400 in 2008.
Margaret McCulloch, the Labour MSP for Central Scotland who uncovered the increase from parliamentary questions, said the figures were shocking. She added: "Thousands of Scots who are in distress and needing urgent treatment are being left to wait for unacceptable amounts of time when they turn up at hospitals across Scotland."
The sudden increase in long waits coincides with the closure of some A&E departments, the tightening of health board budgets and staffing cutbacks.
Recent figures show the number of nurses in Scotland is at its lowest level since 2006 and thousands of posts have been slashed as managers attempt to save £300 million.
Norman Provan, associate director for the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: "These figures show that there are still too many people waiting too long in A&E departments in parts of Scotland. What the figures don't tell us are the reasons why this is happening in particular health board areas.
"There may be a range of different local factors involved, such as changes in how services are being delivered or workforce shortages.
"The Scottish Government needs to work together with health boards to understand the root causes of the problem and tailor solutions to cope with demand."
The Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow saw the number of patients waiting more than eight hours rise from 54 in 2008 to 232 last year.
At the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley the figures are up from 60 to 125 and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow has seen a rise from 15 in 2008 to 22. The number of waits over eight hours grew from 250 to 548 at Hairmyres Hospital. At Edinburgh Royal Infirmary the increase is from 317 to 689.
NHS Fife, which has encountered problems sustaining both its emergency departments, has the worst rises. Last year 476 people waited in A&E for more than 12 hours, and 1588 for more than eight.
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman, said: "These figures are more evidence of the NHS
in Scotland beginning to buckle under the pressure the SNP has put it under. Add this to shutting wards due to staff shortages, unclean hospitals, frail elderly patients being left to feed themselves in hospital and fiddling waiting lists shows just how much things have deteriorated under [Health Secretary] Nicola Sturgeon."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The vast majority of people who attend A&E – 95.3% – are seen within four hours of admission. In April 2006, when a sample survey of A&E waiting times was done, 87.6% of people were seen within four hours.
"We are also working to reduce the number of inappropriate attendances at emergency departments and ensure the public are aware of the range of services on offer, for example Minor Injuries Units, and which unscheduled care department is most suitable for their needs."