THE number of patients enduring extreme waits in Scotland’s A&E units was at a record high last week, with almost 1,300 waiting more than a half a day to be treated. 

Official figures from Public Health Scotland showed the number of people waiting more than eight hours and more than 12 hours were both at record levels in the seven days to  August 21.

The overall proportion of people waiting more than the four-hour target was also the second highest level on record, with 35 per cent not seen on time.

The figures emerged just a day after SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf warned the NHS faced a “really challenging” winter, suggesting there may be no imminent improvement.

Today, he asked people to consider whether they needed to go to A&E, with GPs, pharmacies and NHS24 as alternative options.

The Scottish Tories said the numbers were "appalling" and that the buck stopped with Mr Yousaf.

The new figures showed 9,093 people waited more than four hours in emergency wards last week, down slightly from a record 9,146 the week before.

However the number suffering extreme waits increased. 

The number of people waiting more than eight hours rose from 2,880 to 3,159, while the number waiting more than 12 hours rose from 983 to 1,287.

The figures were the highest since comparable records began in early 2015.

The previous records were both set in the week ending July 3, when 3,124 people waited more than eight hours and 1,190 waited more than 12.

Overall, 65% of patients were seen within four hours last week, down from 65.1% the week before, and just above the worst ever figure of 64.8% set in the week to July 3.

Attendances at Scotland’s A&E units fell slightly from 26,213 to 26,017.

The official 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.

Seeing fewer than half its patients on time for yet another week, the worst performing health board was NHS Forth Valley where just 40.3% of people were treated inside four hours.

NHS Lanarkshire saw 55.1% of its A&E patients on time, and NHS Fife 59.7%.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned long 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 creates an overall shortage of beds, making it harder to advance patients through A&E.

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These appalling stats show that the A&E waiting-time crisis is actually worsening – and the buck stops with Humza Yousaf for that.

“His flimsy Covid Recovery Plan and dire workforce planning have left heroic frontline NHS staff overwhelmed and shattered, and patients let down.

“We know excess delays inevitably translate to needless deaths, which is why the record number of patients waiting more than eight hours and more than 12 hours to be seen is so alarming.

“It’s completely unacceptable – and a damning indictment of SNP mismanagement – that nearly 1,300 patients in one week alone had to wait more than half a day to be seen in Scotland’s emergency wards.

“Rather than seeking to lower public expectations further by warning of worse to come over the winter, the Health Secretary should be redrawing his woefully inadequate plan to prevent this crisis worsening.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said lives were now on the line because of Mr Yousaf's "incompetent stewardship of our NHS". 

She said: “A&E is in complete disarray and Scotland’s nurses have been driven to consider industrial action. 

“Scotland’s healthcare workers are working around the clock but they are not being supported by this government and its missing-in-action health secretary. 

“Humza Yousaf needs to stop making excuses for his inaction and start to get to grips with this crisis – if he does not, then lives will be needlessly lost.” 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: "Another week, another record for waits in our A&E departments broken.

"Humza Yousaf's last significant intervention was the NHS Recovery Plan over a year ago, which wasn’t worth the paper it was written on because waits have spiralled ever since.

"There has been no recovery, and the minister has done nothing to reverse the decline. We need to see action now.

"He should come to Parliament next week with a new plan.

"These waits will put lives at risk. Every week we get closer to a deeper disaster in our NHS this winter. Yet people are being taken for granted by SNP ministers who are shifting their attentions and taxpayers’ money to independence.

"My party and I have set out ideas that could help alleviate this crisis.

"The SNP/Green Government was wrong to vote down proposals for a Burnout Prevention Strategy to protect staff and must establish the Health and Social Care Staff Assembly needed to put their voices at the heart of resolving this crisis.”

In a statement, Mr Yousaf said: "Occupancy and staffing pressures remain high across emergency departments and continue to have an impact on the delivery of services.

“Covid has not gone away but despite this, almost two-thirds of patients are being seen within four hours of arrival.

“As we begin to enter the winter period, people should consider whether their condition is an emergency, such as a stroke, heart attack or major trauma, before going to A&E. Local GPs and pharmacies can be contacted during the day for non-critical care, NHS 24 is also available day or night on 111 for non-emergency inquiries.

“Through our Urgent and Unscheduled Care Collaborative programme we are investing £50 million to drive down waiting times, including further development of Flow Navigation Centres in every board to ensure rapid access to a clinician and scheduled appointments, where possible.

“This will avoid people waiting in A&E waiting rooms unnecessarily.”