EMERGENCY patients are facing six-hour waits to be transferred to Scotland’s biggest hospital as health services nationally face  “significant and sustained” pressure.

Nurses at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital are said to be unable to accept handovers from paramedics because beds are “at a premium” at  the over-stretched A&E unit.

One crew is said to have waited outside the hospital from 6pm until midnight on Monday before they were able to transfer a Covid patient.

According to a paramedic source, the ambulance was one of seven off the road for hours and unable to respond to other emergencies.

The hospital has logged some of the worst delays in its six-year history, with more than 40 per cent of patients stuck in A&E for more than four hours as staff search for space on wards.

READ MORE: SNP ministers admit scale of Covid backlog unknown as they launch £1bn recovery plan 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said emergency departments and receiving units were seeing many more, sicker non-Covid patients than previously, added to increasing virus admissions.

This has been compounded by staff absences, and annual leave and the situation is replicated nationally, according to the board.

NHS Lanarkshire said yesterday that is has been forced to postpone the majority of non-urgent surgical procedures to free up staff and beds for urgent care.

It comes as SNP ministers published a £1billion plan to address the NHS backlog created by the Covid pandemic while admitting they don’t know the true scale of the problem.

Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf pledged to increase health service capacity by at least 10 per cent over the next five years.

However, opposition parties said the 28-page plan was an “embarrassingly flimsy” package of rehashed policies and PR spin. It includes reforms across doctor dentist and hospital services to address the backlog “as quickly as possible” as well as improve care across the NHS.

Paramedics say delays in transferring patients is hampering efforts to deal with other emergency calls.

One paramedic said the delays were becoming an everyday occurrence and said: “The handover system needs changer sooner rather than later.”

READ MORE: Covid in Scotland tracker: Daily cases and deaths revealed 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde issued a public alert earlier this week urging people not to turn up to accident and emergency units unless their condition was life-threatening.

Labour’s Health spokeswoman Jackie Bailey said the strain on ambulance services was “putting lives on the line”.

The Scottish Ambulance Service said paramedics were experiencing lengthy hospital transfers due to significant and sustained pressure on services and said a number of mitigations were in place.

It comes as figures published yesterday showed 5,000 new coronavirus cases and five more deaths were recorded in the past 24 hours.The number is 698 more than Tuesday’s cases.

A total of 44 people are currently being treated in intensive care with recently confirmed Covid-19, which is one more than Tuesday, with 391 in hospital overall, an increase of 27.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “Across Scotland, the NHS is experiencing significant sustained pressure which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and this is unfortunately causing lengthy hospital patient handovers. 

“The Scottish Ambulance Service communicates daily with health boards and have joint escalation plans in place which manage the risks of increased ambulance delays at hospital. 

READ MORE: Scotland records more than 5,000 new Covid cases overnight 

“A number of other steps are also being taken to minimise ambulance waiting times including discharge planning to help maintain patient flow and increasing alternative care pathways for ambulance clinicians to support patients in the community.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde launched a new unscheduled care model in December where those with “urgent but not life-threatening” conditions are told to call 111 and go through an NHS 24 phone assessment instead.

Patients are promised  “rapid access to senior clinical decision-makers” who can provide consultations and have the ability to advise self-care or signpost patients to the most appropriate local service.

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “Nationally, we are seeing a very significant demand on health services including Emergency Departments and receiving units which are seeing many sicker non-Covid 19 patients presenting than previously. 

“This means our clinical staff are extremely busy looking after those patients as well as our Covid patients. This pressure has been compounded by staff absences due to Covid self-isolation, annual leave and other factors.”

Scottish Labour’s Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “The crisis facing our NHS is beyond doubt, but the lack of urgency from the SNP beggars belief. 

“There is no time to waste, particularly as we approach the winter months. "We need a comprehensive recovery plan now.”