SNP health secretary Michael Matheson has been accused of "putting lives in danger" by refusing to quit after patients endured the second worst A&E waits on record last month.

Public Health Scotland reported 42,442 people waited more than the four hour target to be admitted, transferred or discharged in December, more than a third of all attendees.

Only the total for December 2022 has been worse.

“His refusal to quit has further put lives in danger," The Scottish Tories said.

PHS said 65.6% of patients were seen on time last month, well below the 95% target set by the Scottish Government.

There were 15,107 patients who spent eight hours or more in A&E, around 12.5% of cases.

While 6,467 patients, or 5.3%, spent more than 12 hours in A&E. 

New weekly figures also showed only 62.7% of patients seen inside four hours last week, up slightly on 61.9% the previous week, but below the 65.9% weekly average for 2023.

Of the 25,099 people who sought help at A&E in the seven days ending 28 January, 15,741 were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

However, 3,689 patients (14.7%) waited more than eight hours, and 1,768 patients (7%) were there for at least half a day.

Labour highlighted the fact that Mr Matheson was dealing with a Holyrood inquiry into whether he abused his MSP expenses in December.

The health secretary charged taxpayers for part of an £11,000 roaming charge bill run up after he took his iPad on a family holiday to Morocco and his sons used it to watch football.

Mr Matheson falsely claimed to the media that his family was not involved.

Scottish Labour deputy Dame Jackie Baillie said “While Michael Matheson was distracted by his own scandal, our NHS was at crisis point.

“The chaos in our overstretched A&Es has left thousands of patients stranded for hours on end and put lives at risk.

“Delayed discharge is piling pressure on hospitals and leaving patients in limbo, but a succession of SNP Health Ministers have failed to tackle the issue.

“Hospitals are under huge amounts of pressure and record-high waiting lists are at risk of rising further.

“The Health Secretary has been missing in action while patients and staff are forced to deal with the mess his government created.

“Scotland deserves better – Michael Matheson must go and the SNP must deal with this chaos by improving social care, supporting NHS staff, and delivering a real catch-up plan.”

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These dangerous figures continue to get worse under the SNP’s shameful mismanagement of our NHS and these excessive waits are completely inexcusable.

“My hardworking NHS colleagues continue to be abandoned by successive failing health secretaries and have been deprived of the vital resources they need to ensure patients are seen as efficiently as possible, thanks to 16 years of dire workforce planning from the SNP.

“It is unacceptable that so many patients have been abandoned to these worsening delays in our emergency wards, which we know can lead to unnecessary loss of life.

“This is not a new issue. The SNP have not met their target waiting time since July 2020, yet still Michael Matheson refuses to tackle this growing problem.

“His refusal to quit has further put lives in danger, and he must urgently address this crisis before any more lives are put at risk."

Mr Matheson said: “Emergency Departments across the country are continuing to deal with heightened winter pressure, with similar demand being felt right throughout the rest of the UK.

“We recognise waiting times are longer than we want them to be for some patients and we continue to work closely with boards to support delivery of sustained improvements.

“Hospital bed occupancy is having a major factor on performance. Our delayed discharge and hospital occupancy action plan is being implemented at pace to help tackle this and deliver actions we know work to reduce delays.

“This includes early planning, deployment of multi-agency teams and involvement of the patient, their family and carers.”