SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is under growing pressure after the performance of Scotland’s A&E units fell to an all-time low last week.

In one health board, barely a third of patients were seen on time.

Mr Yousaf admitted the times were "not acceptable", but inisted he would help deliver improvements.

New figures show almost 10,000 patients waited more than the four-hour target in the week ending September 11, leading to fears of dire scenes in the coming winter.

The Tories said the figures were “shocking and unacceptable” and indicated the crisis in the health service was worsening, not improving. 

Public Health Scotland reported 63.5 per cent of people were seen on time, down from 67.7% the week before, and worse than the record low of 64.8% in the week to July 3.

The overall number waiting more than four hours rocketed from 8,730 to 9,895, the highest number since comparable records began in early 2015.

The number of patients waiting more than eight hours also hit a new record, up from 2,660 to 3,367, the highest since the previous record of 3,124 in the week to July 3.

While the number waiting more than 12 hours in A&E rose from 982 to 1,257, slightly below the previous record of 1,288 set in the seven days to August 21.

The increases were in spite of attendances at A&E staying fairly stable, with the number of patients up only marginally from 27,016 to 27,097.

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.

The worst performing health board last week by far was NHS Forth Valley, where 38.3% of patients were seen on time, with NHS Lanarkshire on 51.9% and NHS Fife on 56.2%. 

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.

Scottish Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These shocking and unacceptable figures prove that the crisis in A&E is not merely continuing, but deepening.

“That’s extremely alarming for patients and dedicated staff alike, because we know that excess delays to be seen in our emergency wards lead, inevitably and tragically, to avoidable deaths.

“It’s especially concerning that these worst-ever stats come well ahead of the traditional winter peak demand in A&E.

“The Health Secretary can’t ignore these dire stats. He must come up with an alternative strategy to tackle this crisis in Scotland’s NHS, as his flimsy Covid Recovery Plan clearly isn’t working.”

Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie said: “Today’s harrowing statistics are proof positive of this SNP government’s life-threatening inaction.

“Across our nation, thousands of Scots are waiting ridiculous lengths of time for emergency care. Make no mistake – lives will be being lost as a result.

“Long waits in A&E used to be a sign that there were problems and pressures elsewhere in the NHS system, but the SNP have ignored the warnings and now our NHS is in perpetual crisis with thousands of lives being put at risk in A&E departments on a weekly basis.

“While frontline NHS staff work tirelessly around the clock, Humza Yousaf has completely failed to make any meaningful attempt to address the underlying problems or control this crisis.  

“If we are to avoid a full-blown humanitarian crisis this winter then the government must act now.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: "Emergency care is overwhelmed. 

“Patients are experiencing the worst waits on record and staff are at their wits end.

“This is proof that the Scottish Government’s Recovery Plan has failed. 

“Ministers have sat on their hands long enough. The Health Secretary must come to Parliament with a new plan for this winter before the crisis deepens further.

“Humza Yousaf must also finally accept the need for an inquiry into avoidable deaths linked to the crisis in emergency care and stop opposing our calls for a Burnout Prevention Strategy which would give staff extra protection.” 

Mr Yousaf said: "Our accident and emergency departments are working under significant pressure, and in common with health services across the rest of the UK and globally, the impact of the pandemic continues to affect services.

“Notwithstanding this, I am clear that the current level of performance is not acceptable, that is why I am determined to improve performance and am working closely with boards on a number of measures to reduce pressure on hospitals.

“This includes the national roll-out of our outpatient antimicrobial therapy service which allows patients to be treated at home or in the community which has already saved 45,000 bed days.

“This is funded through our £50 million unscheduled care collaborative programme which looks to drive down waiting times through a range of actions, including further development of Flow Navigation Centres in every board to ensure rapid access to a clinician and scheduled appointments, where possible.

The Health Secretary thanked staff working in the NHS, while also urging the public to consider if they require urgent medical attention before attending A&E.