The number of instances where people with suspected serious conditions have had to wait more than 10 minutes for an ambulance has more than doubled since 2019, figures show.
In response to a written question from Scottish Labour deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, released figures showing 4,247 people waited between 10 and 29 minutes for an ambulance to attend when their case was deemed the most serious in the 2020-21 financial year.
This figure is up from 1,932 in 2018-19.
In 2016, the Scottish Ambulance Service instituted a colour-coded response system, with purple cases deemed to be the most severe – where there is a 10% or more chance of cardiac arrest.
The number of cases of between 30 minutes and an hour also almost tripled in the same time period.
In 2018-19, 44 patients were attended to in that time, rising to 125 in the most recent year.
Six patients waited between one and two hours last year, compared to three in 2018-19.
However, the number of purple cases seen in under 10 minutes has also risen sharply, despite dropping slightly between 2019-20 and last year.
In 2020-21, 10,687 cases were seen in under 10 minutes, compared to 8,304 in 2018-19.
Ms Baillie said: “It’s clear that ambulance waiting times are on the rise and that lives are being risked as a result.
“The reports of waits lasting for many hours are horrific and the statistics clearly show that they are not isolated incidents.
“This is unacceptable. We cannot have the Scottish Government’s failure to support the NHS putting lives at risk.
“Humza Yousaf must act now to support ambulance services or lives will be lost.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “Our highly committed staff in communities and in ambulance control centres are working tirelessly in these challenging times to respond to patients as quickly as possible, but due to the significant pressures we are currently experiencing, unfortunately there have been delays.
“Response times can be affected by a range of factors, including increased infection control measures due to coronavirus, incident location, effects of weather, road conditions and delays in handover of patients to emergency departments at hospitals across the country.
“Our Clinical Response Model (CRM) aims to save more lives by more accurately identifying patients with immediately life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest; and to safely and more effectively send the right type of resource first time to all patients based on their clinical need.
“Since adopting this new model, there have been significant increases in 30-day survival for patients presenting in cardiac arrest, and Scottish Ambulance Service clinicians responding in a robust and timely manner to patients affected by major trauma and conditions such as stroke.
“Response times have increased over the period being reported on, and we are currently recruiting and training additional staff and purchasing additional ambulances to help reduce delays. In addition, we are working very closely with hospitals to optimise patient handover arrangements.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Like all areas of our NHS, our ambulance service has been under significant pressure as a result of the pandemic.
“Despite these challenges and serving some of the most rural areas in the UK, in 2020/21 our crews responded to over 70% of highest priority calls in under 10 minutes and more than 99% in under 30 minutes.”