A RECORD number of people had to wait more than half a day to be seen in Scotland’s A&E units in the week leading up to Christmas, the latest official figures have revealed.

Public Health Scotland reported 1,925 patients waited more than 12 hours in the seven days to December 25, up from 1,821 the previous week.

It was the largest number since comparable records began in early 2015, and led to renewed calls for Nicola Sturgeon to sack SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf.

However PHS said the figure was actually was an “undercount”, as two of Scotland’s 14 health boards failed to submit data for that particular week.

In the last week for which the missing boards did report data, they accounted for 279 patients waiting more than 12 hours, suggesting the final total will be more than 2,000.

The proportion of patients seen on time in the week to Christmas improved marginally, according to the incomplete statistics, up from a record low of 55.1 per cent to 56.9%.

Barely half of A&E patients in Glasgow were seen on time.

PHS also released figures showing overall A&E performance in November was the worst month on record, with 67.5% of patients seen within four hours, down from 67.6% in October.

Of the 126,051 attendances at A&E in November, 13,625 (11.1%) spent more than eight hours waiiting to be seen, while 5,270 (4.3%) spent more than 12 hours in A&E.

This was an improvement on the 15,684 (12.5%) and 7,015 (5.6%) waiting longer than eight and 12 hours respectively in October.

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 last year.

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.

The worst performing health board of the 12 reporting data before Christmas was NHS Lanarkshire, where only 41.4% of patients were seen within four hours.

In NHS Forth Valley it was 49.7% and in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde it was 50.5%.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Borders failed to submit data.

SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is already facing calls to resign over the poor A&E performance, with the Scottish Tories demanding Holyrood be recalled to discuss the “crisis”.

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These appalling figures lay bare the crisis in Scotland’s A&E wards under Humza Yousaf’s inept leadership.

“Despite the Herculean efforts of frontline staff, waiting times in our emergency departments are unacceptable due to years of dire workforce planning by successive SNP health secretaries, as well as the flimsy recovery plan of the current one.

“We can’t tolerate a situation where almost 2,000 patients are waiting over half a day to be seen – because we know these delays lead to needless loss of life.

“Senior medics are voicing their concerns about patient safety almost daily, while health boards have resorted to begging staff to cancel leave to help deal with the demand.

“Enough is enough. Nicola Sturgeon must take her fingers out her ears, sack Humza Yousaf and recall parliament to outline emergency measures to ease this unprecedented crisis.”

Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie said: “These damning statistics lay bare the carnage in our A&E departments over the Christmas period and make it clear that Humza Yousaf must go and go now.

“Thousands of Scots have waited for hours and hours for medical treatment while lives have been put on the line.

“Staff are working tirelessly but the inaction of this SNP government has left them facing an impossible struggle. We are only halfway through this winter so there is still much more to come.

“The BMA is clear that the very existence of our NHS in Scotland is on the line and even former SNP health ministers have broken ranks to demand action.

“The time for warm words has come and gone. This crisis has occurred on Humza Yousaf’s watch and NHS staff have no confidence that he is the person capable of taking action and leading them out of this crisis.

“Mr Yousaf – it’s time to go.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton added: "Humza Yousaf has totally lost control of this winter crisis. His answer seems to be to hang on and hope things get better in the spring.

“Despite every single red light flashing on the dashboard, Humza Yousaf has opposed and voted down Scottish Liberal Democrat calls for a burnout prevention strategy, a staff assembly that puts their expertise to good use and an urgent inquiry into the avoidable deaths linked to the crisis in emergency care.

“The Health Secretary must fundamentally change his approach and get control of this crisis, otherwise he will need to go because patients and staff have been taken for granted for far too long.”

Mr Yousaf said: “We know that this is one of the toughest winters in the NHS’s 74-year history and the latest A&E figures clearly demonstrate the challenge our health service is facing.

“Covid has clearly still not gone away and these pressures, combined with pandemic backlogs, are making it a very challenging time for the NHS.

“We are dealing with flu which has been classified at extraordinary levels, with cases admitted to hospital the highest in five years. We also had to deal with rising cases of Strep A and other respiratory viruses which has resulted in significant demand on services.”

He said he was working with NHS boards “to ensure people leave hospital without delay, freeing up vital beds for those who need them most”.

He went on: “In October we published our £600 million winter plan which will see us recruit 1,000 new NHS staff. Our £50 million urgent and unscheduled care collaborative looks to drive down A&E waits through hospital at home and our out-patient antimicrobial therapy service which allows patients to be treated at home or in the community.

“Emergency care is always available for those who need it, however many people are seeking help with common winter illness and NHS Inform have useful self-help guides to let everyone know when to stay home and when to seek more care.

“If you do think you need to visit A&E but it is not an emergency, you can contact NHS 24 where you may be referred to a more appropriate urgent care service. Local GPs and pharmacies can be also be contacted as a first port of call for non-critical care.”