NEARLY one in five patients at A&E last week were forced to wait eight hours to be seen, according to new statistics.

Despite a marginal improvement overall, the latest figures from Public Health Scotland showed that just 57.3% of those who went to casualty in the week ending January 8 were seen and subsequently admitted or discharged within four hours.

READ MORE: Sturgeon: 'Pressure on NHS and social care continues to be very high'

While that was up from 56% the previous week, it is far off the Scottish Government’s target of 95%. 

There were small drops in the number of people waiting more than 12 hours, falling from 2,511 to 2,245.

The number of people waiting more than eight hours also fell from 4,982 to 4,387.

READ MORE: Sturgeon: 'Very slight easing' in A&E and bed pressures

NHS Forth Valley was once again the worst-performing health board with just 40.6% of patients seen within four hours, down 42.8% in the previous week. 

Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government was "doing everything we can to help the health service through the remainder of the most challenging winter in its history.”

He added: "This includes easing delayed discharge by purchasing additional care beds for those who are fit to leave hospital, and ensuring adequate resource is in place for NHS 24.

“Our ambulance service staff are also providing treatment, where appropriate, to help avoid hospital admission.

“Our resilience committee is monitoring the situation in emergency departments extremely closely and we remain in daily contact with health boards.

“My thanks to all health and care staff for their extraordinary efforts during these exceptionally challenging times.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the figures were proof that Scotland’s A&E departments were in “meltdown.”

READ MORE: Grampian patient in 'shameful' five year wait for CT scan

He repealed his call for Nicola Sturgeon to sack Mr Yousaf. 

Mr Gulhane said: “We know that, tragically, these excess delays are leading to scores of people dying unnecessarily every single week under this SNP Government.

“It is totally unacceptable that over 40 per cent of patients are having to wait more than four hours to be seen.

“The health secretary has lost the trust of hard-working frontline staff and long-suffering patients. They are paying a huge price for his ever-growing list of failures and his flimsy winter action plan.”

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:"This last week in our A&E departments nearly one in five of all those who went had to wait over 8 hours to be seen. That is an appalling record for the Health Secretary.

“Despite this ongoing crisis, 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.

“Patients and staff have been consistently taken for granted by a Government and a Health Secretary that seem to be out of ideas. If Humza Yousaf can't reverse that trend, then he will have to go."

Scottish Labour Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said:“Our NHS is facing the greatest crisis in living memory, yet the SNP are simply not up to the challenge.

“Week after week our hardworking A&E staff are promised that things will get better- but the reality is far from the SNP spin.

“Patient and staff wellbeing is in danger. Staff are exhausted and their working conditions are overwhelming. Lives are being lost.

“Our NHS is on life support. The SNP must sort the backlog in delayed discharge and end the crisis in A&E once and for all.”