More than 12,000 people died waiting for an ambulance in Scotland last year, Scottish Labour have claimed.  

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions today, Anas Sarwar said that there had been an increase of almost 70 per cent in the number of deaths among people waiting on an ambulance in the past four years.  

The issue appeared to initially wrong-foot the Humza Yousaf, who said he did not have the figures when initially pressed if he was aware of them. 

Mr Sarwar then revealed the full extent of the number of deaths, accusing the Scottish Government of “incompetence” in its handling of the NHS.  

READ MORE: Anger as Glasgow father-of-three dies after 40-hour wait for ambulance

Humza Yousaf was facing questions from party leaders at Holyrood on Thursday just hours after Health Secretary Michael Matheson stepped down following a probe into his conduct over an £11,000 iPad bill run up while he was on holiday.  

The Herald: Anas Sarwar questions Humza YousafAnas Sarwar questions Humza Yousaf (Image: Scottish Parliament TV)

Raising the issue of the “real-world” impact on health services because of the distraction caused by the iPad scandal and Mr Matheson’s resignation, Mr Sarwar said: “That will make the headlines today, but the crisis in our NHS has been seventeen years in the making. 

 “Humza Yousaf may hope swapping one failing SNP minister for another is going to solve the problem. But it won’t. 

 “While the Government pretends there is no crisis and that they have it under control, that is not the experience for patients across the country.” 

He added: “For many people, delays in accessing treatment can be fatal.”  

“There were over 12,000 people last year for whom an ambulance was called but who died before reaching the hospital. 

“That is up from just over 7,100 in 2019. An increase of over 70% in just four years. Many of these people may have survived if an ambulance could have reached them sooner, or if they could have been admitted to hospital more quickly. 

“This is the real-world consequence of SNP incompetence and a failure to get to grips with the crisis in our NHS.” 

The Herald: Humza Yousaf during FMQsHumza Yousaf during FMQs (Image: Scottish Parliament TV)

Responding to the initial question on whether he was aware of the number of deaths, Mr Yousaf said that funding had been made available to recruit more ambulance staff.  

He said: “What I can say is that of course is that as part of the winter funding that we announced a significant chunk of that winter funding was to recruit additional staff for the Scottish Ambulance Service. 

READ MORE: Patients 'died in ambulances' last week amid 'horrific' handover delays outside A&Es

“I take real exception Anas Sarwar's characterisation in his question that nobody in the government understands the real challenges that the NHS is under.  

“We do...And that’s why we’re ensuring additional resources to the ambulance service.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Patient safety remains our top priority. Despite continued increased levels of high priority calls, and the unique geographical challenges posed in some of Scotland’s most rural areas, crews responded to 476 of the highest priority calls across Scotland last week in an average time of 6 minutes 56 seconds.

“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that there are no unnecessary delays in transferring patients to hospital and we continue to work closely with Health Boards and the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), to maintain such a fast response to the most critically unwell.

"We continue to invest in supporting SAS staff and patients, including a record number of additional staff (1388) since 2020, with a further 317 on track to be recruited by April 2024. The 2023-24 Budget provides Scottish Ambulance Service with £28.4m of increased investment.”