NEARLY 300 patients waited more than 12 hours in emergency departments across Scotland between Christmas and New Year as a surge in flu cases contributed to “significant pressures” on the NHS.

Breaches of the four-hour A&E target also soared to a record high as only 78 per cent of patients were seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours – the worst performance since weekly recording began in February 2015. The Scottish Government target is 95 per cent compliance.

The latest figures by ISD Scotland, the statistics division of the NHS, for the week ending December 31 show the breaches included 1,156 patients who waited more than eight hours and 272 who spent more than 12 hours in emergency departments, compared to 51 a month earlier.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said NHS staff were “having to take unprecedented measures to keep services afloat”, while Anas Sarwar, Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s comments on A&E waits “will be a hollow apology without meaningful action”.

Compliance with the four-hour A&E target declined steeply during December, after hovering around 93 per cent in late November.

The actual number of A&E attendances increased only slightly, however – from 25,713 in the week ending November 26, to 25,865 in the final week of 2017.

The bottleneck over the festive period has been blamed not on overall the number of people turning up at A&E but on the numbers requiring admission, putting pressure on hospital beds.

Delays were also said to have been exacerbated by festive closures at GP surgeries, reduced opening hours at some high street pharmacies and the time needed to diagnose the flu strain in individual patients.

Dr Dan Beckett, Scottish representative of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Falls and slips as a result of the icy weather and public holidays have put pressure on hospitals and A&E departments, however flu has had a significant additional impact on most acute medical units this winter.

“We are seeing numbers of patients requiring admission to hospital at a scale we haven’t seen for several years and patients who are frail, or have other medical conditions, are requiring several days in hospital before they are able to be discharged.”

The most recent figures from Health Protection Scotland show around 46 Scots in every 100,000 were suffering from the virus, compared to 22 in every 100,000 for the same week in 2016.

The outbreak has led to fears Scotland is being gripped by so-called “Aussie flu”, a strain which proved particularly prevalent and in some cases lethal during the Australian winter between May and September last year.

However, Gregor Smith, deputy chief medical officer for Scotland, said this was not the case. He said: “Each year, the World Health Organisation reviews evidence from previous years and determines the most likely flu viruses that should be covered by the vaccine programmes in the northern and southern hemispheres for the next influenza season.

“Manufacturers of the vaccines adopt these recommendations and these products are then incorporated into nations’ vaccine programmes.

“At this time, the vaccine is a good match for the predominant strain in Scotland, a variety of influenza A (H3N2). The proportion of the population who have received their vaccine is the same as last year.

“There has been discussion between the Scottish Government and public health experts about the experience of southern hemisphere countries such as Australia for several months.

“The predominant strain currently circulating in Scotland is not the same strain that was predominant in Australia.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Scotland’s accident and emergency departments are continuing to outperform those across the rest of the UK– and indeed it is to the great credit of NHS staff that even at the height of these exceptional winter pressures, almost eight out of 10 people who attended A&E were admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour target.”