Fully remobilising the NHS in Scotland after Covid will take years, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned.
He was speaking on the issue as health boards across the country continue to come under pressure because of the impact of coronavirus.
Bosses at NHS Lanarkshire were on Tuesday forced to cancel some planned surgeries, with the health board’s director of acute services Judith Park saying “the pressures on our hospitals are as severe as at any time in the whole pandemic”.
Accident and emergency departments are also under pressure, with the latest weekly figures showing almost a fifth (19.9%) of patients had to wait more than four hours to be dealt with.
Mr Yousaf stressed that operations are not being cancelled “across the board”, but by “some health boards”.
While he accepted this has “an impact” on patients, he said it allows health services “to deal with the most urgent priorities”.
He also said some emergency departments are dealing with higher volumes of cases than they were before the pandemic, describing this as “quite extraordinary”.
He said the Scottish Government has given an additional £12 million to A&E departments “for them to be able to use in whatever way they think is appropriate”.
He insisted there are “no quick fixes”, but said emergency units are performing “well given the real, real challenges and pressures they are facing”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the Health Secretary said: “The fact that eight out of 10 people are being seen within the four-hour treatment time target that we have, it doesn’t suggest to me they’re in crisis.
“Challenging for sure, difficult for sure, nobody is denying that, that is why we are giving additional funding to health boards.”
He said he has spoken to a “number of the health boards that are facing probably the most acute pressure”, explaining that they are often dealing with more complicated cases than pre-Covid.
Mr Yousaf said: “We have just been through a huge shock here for the last 16 months where a number of people who might have presented during that 16 months haven’t presented and therefore are coming with more complexities.”
A plan for the full remobilisation of the NHS in Scotland will be published “shortly”, he promised, noting the SNP had committed to doing this within 100 days of the May 6 Holyrood election.
But he stressed: “The plan will be realistic. I am not going to sit there and tell people the NHS will be fully remobilised within a month, within two months, within three months.
“This is going to take years to fully remobilise our NHS.
“Anybody who presents you with some false solutions to this is being inaccurate.”
Scottish Conservative public health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane claimed the NHS is in crisis, as he branded the Health Secretary “out of touch”.
Dr Gulhane, a GP, said: “Humza Yousaf does not realise how stark the problems are on the frontline of our NHS.
“My GP colleagues are overwhelmed and are struggling to meet the demand from patients. The First Minister asking long Covid patients to come to us has exacerbated the problems. I saw 60 patients during my on-call and this is not sustainable for GPs.
“My hospital colleagues are also mentally and physically exhausted from being on the frontline of this pandemic, with morale sinking quickly.
“Waiting times are spiralling out of control, there are huge delays to cancer diagnosis, there is no sign of long Covid clinics, and hospitals are full with some at ‘code black’ status.
“If that’s not a crisis, what is?
“Humza Yousaf needs to work with staff on the frontline and start developing a real plan of action to fully remobilise our NHS and bring waiting times back under control. Downplaying the issues won’t fix anything.”
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The Health Secretary can spin it all he wants but the figures speak for themselves. A&E performance is the worst it’s been since 2019 – and these atrocious figures are just part of the growing crisis facing the NHS.
“Emergency clinicians have been warning about this for some time now.”
She claimed some “services are already stretched to breaking point”, while the SNP “are in complete denial about the scale of the crisis we are facing”.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “There needs to be an honest acknowledgement that the NHS doesn’t just need a post-Covid recovery plan, it needs a recovery plan from 14 years of SNP rule.
“Long before Covid-19 arrived, targets for A&E treatment, cancer waits and mental health were being routinely missed.
“Staff need more than warm words from the Health Secretary. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out proposals to use the skills and experience of our health service staff, together with the lessons learned from the innovation in the crisis, to get our NHS and our country’s health strong for the future.”