HUMZA Yousaf has been branded “the worst health secretary since devolution” after presiding over unprecedented A&E waits and record vacancies of critical NHS staff.

In a Labour debate at Holyrood, Mr Yousaf was compared unfavourably to his four SNP predecessors, and told he should quit if he couldn’t turn the health service around.

Listing a series of grim health statistics, Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie said the NHS was “on the brink of a humanitarian crisis” despite heroic work by its staff.

She said Mr Yousaf’s “pathetic” winter resilience plan contained “not a single penny extra”, merely “repackaged, reheated and recycled” spending figures, some 11 months old.

She told MSPs: “I have been in parliament for 23 years, and I can say without fear of contradiction that Humza Yousaf is absolutely the worst health secretary since devolution.

“Let's prove this. Let's look at his predecessors. 

“Nicola Sturgeon - 95.9% of people seen within four hours at A&E in October 2011. 

“Alex Neil 93.9% in October 2013. Shona Robison 91% in October 2015. Jeane Freeman 89.6% in October 2020. 

“Let me remind you, that's eight months into the same pandemic that this health secretary blames all his failings on.

“And our missing-in-action Health Secretary presides over record lows of 64% [of patients seen within the four-hour target for A&E].” 

Ms Baillie also raised recent record numbers of people waiting more than eight and 12 hours in A&E, which she said could be responsible for 37 avoidable deaths in a week.

“Patients waiting on trolleys getting intravenous drugs administered in corridors, which is not safe, sleeping in chairs overnight. This is the new normal in accident and emergency.”

She concluded: “Our NHS is on its knees. The Health Secretary has a choice, because doing nothing is not a choice. He needs to stop people needlessly dying this winter. 

“So his choice is: set out a clear plan to end waiting times of more than eight hours, because this is about saving lives. And if he can't do that, frankly, he must resign.”

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “People are dying. People are dying avoidable deaths and it’s going to get worse over the winter.

“Across the country, the Scottish Government continues to fail our Scottish National Health Service and fail our patients.

“And to be clear, this is not the fault of our hard working clinical and support staff who have and always will go beyond the call of duty.

“But these heroes really are at breaking point and the Cabinet Secretary should know this.” 

Mr Yousaf said nobody in the Scottish Government would deny the NHS was “under significant pressure”, but said it was ridiculous that Labour’s motion didn’t mention Covid.

He told MSPs: “For Labour to bring forward a motion about NHS pressures and not to include one single word, not a solitary mention about Covid and the pandemic, demonstrates just how it is Jackie Baillie and her party who have their fingers in their ears, and not this government. 

“The pandemic is the biggest shock our NHS has ever faced in its 74 year existence.

“I have no doubt that of course the NHS had challenges pre-pandemic, but for Labour not to recognise that Covid has been the biggest shock they have faced is frankly burying the head in the sand. 

“The NHS will not recover in weeks, as Jackie Baillie is demanding, or even months. It will take years. That's why the £1billion recovery plan is predicated on five years of substantial investment and reform. I am certainly committed to that recovery.”

MSPs voted 62 to 51 for an amendment to Labour’s motion, which erased it and substituted a new text about Covid and Scottish Government spending on the NHS and staff pay.