Humza Yousaf admitted health workers are enduring a “perfect storm” as a record number of NHS Fife A&E patients waited longer than 12 hours to be seen in just one week.
Shocking new data revealed 142 people faced delays of more than half a day before they could see a medic, while an additional 129 patients waited at least eight hours.
The worrying figures also showed less than half of all locals who visited A&E in the week leading up to New Year’s Day were attended to within four hours.
It comes after warnings that patients at Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital are regularly being left in the back of ambulances due to the ongoing winter crisis.
Recovery ‘will take years’
In Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said: “This especially challenging time for the NHS will continue for the coming weeks. The full recovery of our NHS is something that will take years.
“Our entire health and social care system is facing the continuing impact of the pandemic. Covid remains a pressure on our health system.
“Challenges around late discharge of patients also continues to have an impact in driving up A&E waiting times and overall pressure on the health system are significant.”
Across Scotland, the number of patients who faced a 12-hour wait was the highest ever in the seven days until January 1.
And a record number of people were being kept in hospital even when they should have been able to leave.
Tayside ‘bed blocking’
In NHS Tayside, 151 patients were kept in for longer than was necessary in November, an increase of 24 from the year before.
Health Secretary Mr Yousaf admitted bed blocking in hospitals was a major concern after Nicola Sturgeon confessed almost no more spaces were free in wards.
He said an additional 300 beds will temporarily be made available across the country to help improve capacity.
The SNP health chief also revealed health and social care partnerships will get an extra £8 million in total so they can buy more beds.
Mr Yousaf said some care homes had been forced to close due to the cost-of-living crisis, limiting the number of spaces available for patients who can leave hospital.
Ms Sturgeon said NHS24 faced a record number of 100,000 calls during the four-day holiday periods over Christmas and New Year.
Mr Yousaf told MSPs an extra 200 staff were due to start working in March in a bid to relieve pressure on call handlers.
The Scottish Government has faced demands to increase pay for NHS staff and social care workers to help boost the workforce.
Pay demands ‘detrimental’
But earlier today the health secretary claimed paying social care staff £12 an hour would have a “detrimental” impact on the health service.
On Monday top doctor Iain Kennedy, who chairs the BMA union, warned health workers were “on their knees” due to ongoing pressures.
He insisted the NHS cannot “struggle to survive from crisis to crisis” and said first-hand accounts from staff over Christmas were “harrowing”.