NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of a “humiliation” over soaring NHS waiting times – a word the First Minister used to attack Labour’s performance 18 years ago when just a fraction of the now 600,000 people were forced to wait for treatment.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar pressed Ms Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions over the “tragedy” of “ever-lengthening” waiting lists, which have left 600,000 people forced to wait for NHS treatment and diagnostics.

He added: “This is a humiliation for the SNP and a tragedy for the tens of thousands of patients languishing on ever-lengthening lists.”

Statistics from Public Health Scotland shows that waiting lists have soared from 450,000 in December 2019 to more than 600,000 as of June 2021.

Earlier this week, it was revealed performance against the four-hour waiting time target for A&E fell to a record low of 75.1%.

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Mr Sarwar referred to comments Ms Sturgeon made in 2003, when she said waiting lists at the time were a “humiliation”.

The Scottish Labour leader said: “In 2003, Nicola Sturgeon was saying a list of over 84,000 people was a humiliation.

“What we are talking about today is a list of over 600,000.”

Mr Sarwar added: “These long lists are meaning more complicated cases presenting at A&E.

“This month, the worst A&E waiting times since records began – 24,000 of our fellow citizens waiting more than four hours, 4,000 of our fellow citizens waiting over eight hours and almost 1,000 of our fellow citizens waiting over 12 hours while ambulances are queueing outside hospitals.”

Mr Sarwar highlighted BMA Scotland’s response to the NHS recovery plan published in August, which said some commitments were “unrealistic”.

The First Minister said the plan offered an additional £1 billion and aimed to increase capacity by 10%.

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Ms Sturgeon stressed that the pandemic has put “significant pressure” on the NHS.

She added: “Before the pandemic, the difference was the changing demographics of our country that every single nation across the UK is grappling with.

“That’s why this Government has ensured record investment in the National Health Service, record investment that would not have happened had Labour stayed in government.”

The First Minister said the new national treatment centres promised by the NHS recovery plan would include an additional 1,500 staff.

Ms Sturgeon said: “No-one underplays how difficult the challenges ahead are, for the NHS in particular, but for all of society.

“It is only a matter of months since the Scottish people had a choice about who they trusted and had confidence in to lead the country through all of these challenges.

“And they chose this government and that is a responsibility we take seriously each and every day.”

Referring to her “humiliation” comment back in 2003, the First Minister claimed that “our waiting times targets are so much more ambitious than they were under Labour”, adding that “we are delivering more for patients”.

The Herald: Anas Sarwar at First Minister's QuestionsAnas Sarwar at First Minister's Questions

Speaking after the exchange, Mr Sarwar said: “The fact of the matter is the NHS is already in crisis and we are staring down the barrel of a winter of chaos.

“No amount of spin or deflection can hide the scale of the challenge our NHS faces and the dangers it poses to the people of Scotland.

“We all know Nicola Sturgeon relied on slogans in opposition – the problem is she still relies on them in government.”

He added: “To say that the current NHS backlog is only down to the pandemic is disingenuous, disrespectful and frankly dangerous.

“Nicola Sturgeon says she cares, but the people of Scotland don’t need her to care – they need healthcare.

“The government must act now before it’s too late – lives are on the line.”