THE performance of Scotland’s A&E units has sunk to a new record low, with more than a third of patients waiting too long for treatment last week.
After a third consecutive decline, just 66.2 per cent of people were seen within the statutory four-hour target in the week to March 20, new official figures show.
Opposition parties said the numbers were “simply atrocious” and accused SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf of having “lost control” of the situation.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine last week warned around 240 people had died this year as a result of delays at A&E departments.
Public Health Scotland reported the number of people waiting more than four hours rocketed from 8,092 to 8,610 to reach a new record for the second week in a row.
The number of patients waiting more than eight and 12 hours for treatment were also at their highest since comparable records began in early 2015.
The number waiting more than eight hours jumped 18% from 2,216 to 2,615, while the number waiting more than half a day surged by 35% from 747 to 1,015 last week.
The number waiting more than 12 hours has almost doubled in just three weeks.
The rise in excessive waits last week was in spite of a slight drop in the number of people attending A&E, which fell from 25,616 to 25,506.
However hospitals have also seen record numbers of people taken in for Covid treatment, with NHS Greater Glasgow and NHS Lanarkshire cautioning people against coming to A&E unless strictly necessary.
The proportion of people seen within four hours hit its previous low in the week to January 9 this year, when 67.3% of people were seen on time.
After rising in February, it has dropped throughout March, from 70.8% in the week to February 27 to 70.5% the following week, then 68.4% and now 66.2%.
The target is for 95% of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
It has not been met nationally since July 2020.
The worst performing health board last week was NHS Forth Valley, where only 52.7% of patients were seen on time, followed by NHS Lanarkshire on 56.3% and NHS Lothian on 61.7%.
Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These worst ever A&E waiting time figures are simply atrocious. They are a damning indictment of Humza Yousaf’s time as Health Secretary and ought to shame the SNP Government.
“We know excess waits inevitably lead to needless deaths. So for more than one in three patients to be waiting over four hours – and 1,000-plus patients in just one week having to wait more than half a day – is hugely alarming.
“Scotland’s emergency wards are beyond breaking point. Two of our largest health boards are pleading with patients not to attend A&E unless their condition is life-threatening.
“And what’s the Health Secretary’s response? A Parliamentary statement last week full of excuses but devoid of solutions.
“It’s now more than six months since Humza Yousaf’s patently inadequate Covid Recovery Plan was published, yet we’ve still seen no Plan B for tackling the ever-growing A&E waiting times.
“Overworked frontline NHS staff and worried patients should not have to accept this perpetual crisis.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “ Another week and another record-breaking failure in A&E due to the SNP.
“Staff are working tirelessly but they are being completely failed by Humza Yousaf and his SNP government.
“Thousands of lives are now being risked in A&E departments on a weekly basis – this is completely unacceptable.
“Experts have warned that hundreds of lives have been lost due to the crisis in A&E.
“It’s about time that Humza Yousaf realised that he is a government minister and not a commentator on this crisis.
“Humza Yousaf must act to support NHS services before more lives are needlessly lost.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: «Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon have lost control of the situation. The emergency care crisis has reached new depths with no respite for staff.
“The A&E target was missed for years pre-pandemic because of poor workforce planning and SNP mismanagement. Staff are more frustrated than anyone because they have been sounding the alarm. They have nothing more to give. That didn’t stop the SNP-Green Government voting against our calls for an urgent Burnout Prevention Strategy.
“These figures show the existing plans have fallen flat. NHS patients and staff are in dire need of new hope. They also deserve an inquiry into the avoidable deaths connected to the emergency care crisis.”
In a statement, Mr Yousaf said: «I noted at the time that the week ending 20th March was shaping up to be most difficult our health service has ever faced.
«The unprecedented impact of the pandemic is continuing to take its toll on our NHS and these latest figures continue to underline the extent of the pressure on services.
«We are currently seeing record high levels of Covid transmission and more people in our hospitals with Covid than at any time during the pandemic and this rise in recent weeks has inevitably had an impact on services like A&E.
«The Chief Nursing Office is now reviewing national Infection Control guidance with a view to easing current restrictions which have added to hospital pressures through reduced bed numbers. Staff absences and a growing number of acutely unwell patients, resulting in longer stays, is also having an impact.
«We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our healthcare staff who are continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.
“For many A&E will not be the right place for their healthcare need.
«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 can be contacted during the day for non-critical care, as well as local pharmacies. If you think, you need A&E but it is not an emergency NHS 24 telephone service is available on 111.
“Scotland continues to have the best performing A&Es in the UK. In fact, Scotland’s A&Es have outperformed those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for over six years.”