WAITING time performances across Scotland’s A&E units have improved slightly, ending a six-week run of deteriorating services for patients.

However new figures from Public Health Scotland still showed almost a third of attendees waited too long to be treated last week, with more than half of patients waiting too long in two of Scotland’s 14 regional health boards. 

The Scottish Tories accused SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf of “total inaction” and said he and other ministers were “shamefully distracted” by their pursuit of independence.

The data showed 66.8 per cent of patients were treated within the official four-hour target in the seven days ending July 10, up from a record low of 64.9% the previous week.

The numbers of patients enduring extreme waits also fell compared to the previous week, when they had been at their highest since comparable records began in 2015.

The number waiting more than four hours fell from 9,108 to 8,180; more than eight hours fell from 3,090 to 2,566; and those waiting more than 12 hours were down from 1,153 to 909.

The improvements were achieved against a backdrop of sharply falling A&E attendances, which fell from 26,647 in the week to June 26, then to 25,913 the following week, and then to 24,603 last week.

The worst performing health board last week was NHS Forth Valley, which saw just 49.4% of its A&E patients on time.

NHS Lanarkshire was second worst on 49.5%, and NHS Borders saw 59.9% on time.

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

The figure has been below 70% in Scotland since the week ending May 22.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned the significant delays are harming or killing more than 30 patients a week. 

A key factor is a lack of social care places leading to the delayed discharge of patients medically fit enough to leave hospital.

This in turn creates a shortage of beds, making it harder to advance patients through A&E. Covid-related absences are also a factor.

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “With each passing week, Humza Yousaf’s total inaction to tackle the crisis in our A&E departments is laid bare. There continues to be next to no significant improvement in getting patients treated as quickly as possible.

“The crisis in our NHS is ever deepening, yet still we see the SNP Health Secretary fail to show any leadership and accept his flimsy NHS Recovery Plan is not fit for purpose.

“We should not have to accept that it is now apparently the norm for over three in ten patients not to be seen within four hours of arriving at A&E, especially when targets were being hit even at the height of the pandemic.

“Humza Yousaf and the SNP Government are shamefully distracted by pushing for another divisive independence referendum next year, rather than getting a grip on A&E waiting times.

“Our heroic frontline staff continue to go above and beyond, but are being hampered by a Health Secretary who has shown no signs he has any sort of robust recovery plan to drastically improve waiting times.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland’s A&E services are being stuck in perpetual crisis while the SNP fail to act.

“Week after week we see performance that would have been treated as a national scandal a few years ago brushed off as nothing by Ministers.

“Despite the best efforts of dedicated NHS staff, services are being overwhelmed by the failure to tackle the wider backlog in the NHS – and patient lives are being put at risk.

“We cannot let chaos become the new normal in A&E. We urgently need a real plan to ease the pressure on services and staff by making sure people can get the help they need, when they need it.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: "Week after week we are seeing extremely long waiting times in our A&E departments, yet we are seeing precious little action from the First Minister and her Health Secretary.

"Yet despite this ongoing crisis, the SNP-Green government have decided now is the time to shift focus to an unwanted independence referendum.

"Patients deserve to be seen for treatment quickly and close to home, and staff shouldn’t be left constantly overwhelmed, but after 15 years of SNP mismanagement that seems less likely than ever.

"The Health Secretary must move his focus back to the A&E crisis now and listen to Scottish Liberal Democrat calls for a staff burnout prevention strategy and a Health and Social Care Staff Assembly.

"We need the Scottish Government to focus all its energies on solving this crisis, not waste effort on an unwanted independence referendum."