HUMZA Yousaf is facing calls for an inquiry into any "unnecessary deaths" linked to Scotland’s waiting times crisis after the latest figures showed a quarter of A&E patients still waiting too long.

Making the demand, the Scottish Liberal Democrats accused the Health Secretary of “mismanagement” and sending staff morale to “rock bottom”.

The SNP-Green Government has already been forced to call in the army to help deal with problems in the ambulance service caused by choked A&E units.

Public Health Scotland today revealed an improvement in A&E waits in the week to September 19, with  74.4 per cent of people seen within the four-hour target.

This was up from 71.5% the previous week, the worst figure on record.

However last week’s improvement coincided with a fall in A&E attendances, down from 27,534 to 26,872, the lowest figure in a month.

Of these, 1,413 patients waited more than eight hours (down from 1,413 the previous week) and 341 waited more than 12 hours (down from 551).

The target is for 95% of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours. It has not been met nationally since July 2020.

Scottish LibDem leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Extreme waiting times in A&E seem to be the new normal in the eyes of the SNP government.

“Every week, thousands of patients are suffering because emergency care has been eroded away by government mismanagement.

“Winter is only just beginning but already huge volumes of people who are scared and in pain are struggling to be seen because of the bottleneck at the door of emergency care.

“Staff are on the frontline bearing the blame for the Health Secretary’s mismanagement, and morale is at rock bottom.

“There needs to be accountability in this crisis, and the public need to be kept informed on progress.

“We need a full independent review into all unnecessary deaths connected to ambulance waiting times so that lessons can be learned, alongside urgent recruitment drives to help the service survive over the winter.”

Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “Our A&E departments are still overwhelmed and Scotland’s NHS would be much better served if Humza Yousaf focused on fixing the problems on the frontline, instead of making sure he gets a photo op.

“The length of waits at A&E departments are still very concerning, although people should see an improvement now that the UK Armed Forces have stepped in to help tackle the crisis in Scotland’s NHS.

 “That vital support from the British Army should help to alleviate the pressure on our ambulance service and A&E departments by extension.

 “However, more urgency is still needed. We still need to see a full strategic plan for maximising the Armed Forces from Humza Yousaf.

“The SNP promised an NHS winter plan last week and we still haven’t seen it. The delays and lack of planning is costing Scotland’s NHS and piling the pressure on frontline staff.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie added: “Our NHS is in disarray, cancer services are in crisis and our A&E departments are overwhelmed, but the Health Minister is missing in action."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The COVID pandemic has inevitably affected A&E attendance and the pressure is being felt across the UK.

"Scotland’s core A&E departments continue to outperformed those in the rest of the UK for more than six years.

"Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures over recent weeks as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.

"As part of the NHS Recovery Plan we have committed £27 million towards the Redesign of Urgent Care to ensure people receive the right care, at the right place and avoid unnecessary hospital attendance.

“Weekly performance is impacted due to a range of challenges including high attendances, staffing pressures due to isolation and annual leave and the continued requirement for infection control precautions that is affecting the time people need to spend in A&E.

"This is combined with increased levels of people attending A&E who are much sicker and require higher levels of care

“To minimise pressures, we have committed £12 million in additional funding to health boards across Scotland to support non-COVID emergency care.

"The boards are recruiting additional staff with this funding which will help put measures in place to reduce waiting times for urgent or emergency treatment and increase available beds.

"We have also provided £80 million to boards to this financial year support their elective activity and specifically target the backlog of care including appointments, diagnostic testing and surgery, as part of the broader mobilisation of out NHS.

“We are working closely with those sites facing the greatest challenges to ensure rapid recovery plans are in place and are in contact daily.

“To support improvements in emergency and urgent care waiting times we are working with Health Boards and their partners through our Unscheduled Care Improvement Programme to improve flow through the hospital by ensuring effective processes are in place to reduce the length of time people need to spend in hospital and ensure they are discharged as soon as they are medically fit.”