Accident and emergency waiting times in Scotland have hit their worst level on record once more, with just 70.9% of patients seen in four hours.
With 24,116 patients seeking treatment at A&E departments in the week ending October 17, it is the lowest attendance figure since the first week of May – 23 weeks ago.
Yet the percentage of patients seen, admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour target has fallen to another record low of 70.9%.
The latest figures published by Public Health Scotland reveal that 7,012 patients across Scotland waited longer than four hours.
Of those, 1,786 waited for more than eight hours and 515 were still waiting after 12 hours.
It is the seventh time in 11 weeks that compliance with the Scottish Government’s target has declined to its worst ever level.
NHS Forth Valley – which is responsible for the 12 worst weekly performances recorded by any Scottish health board – was again the worst-performing region, with more than half of patients (53.1%) waiting longer than the four-hour target.
It is a slight improvement on last week’s record low of 41% of patients, although 162 of the 1,159 patients (14%) waited more than eight hours and 20 patients (1.7%) waited longer than 12 hours.
NHS Lanarkshire, which moved to its highest alert level of “black” last week after reaching maximum capacity and cancelled cancer procedures, saw just 62.1% within four hours.
Only Scotland’s island health boards – NHS Western Isles, NHS Shetland and NHS Orkney – met the waiting time target of 95% of patients seen within four hours, with performances of 98.4%, 97.4% and 95.7% respectively.
Following last week’s figure of 71.3% of A&E patients being dealt with in the target time, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf told the PA news agency: “I absolutely regret that anybody doesn’t receive the standard of service that we’d expect.
“That’s why we’re working to invest, that’s why we’re leaving no stone unturned to assist – whether that’s from the military or elsewhere.
“But I will do everything in my gift to try to get some improvement, but it will be an incredibly challenging winter ahead.”
Responding to the latest statistics, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures show that our NHS is genuinely in jeopardy. The SNP have sucked the life out of our public services.
“Record-breaking waiting times might have been normalised by the SNP, but these numbers aren’t trivial. They show people who need critical healthcare services being put at risk. It’s a true scandal.
“The Health Secretary cannot expect to muddle on and for the Army to bail him out. If staff are to be convinced to stay, we need to see long-term options on the table including an honest workforce management plan and a revised NHS Recovery Plan.
“In the meantime, the Health Secretary should spend a shift on the front line so that he has a proper grip of the scale of problems faced.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These latest figures are deeply concerning and further evidence of the crisis in Scotland’s A&E wards.
“More than 50,000 patients have now waited beyond the SNP’s own target time since Humza Yousaf’s recovery plan was published and with each passing week the stats are getting worse.
“Scotland’s NHS is toiling on Humza Yousaf’s watch and his flimsy Covid recovery plan isn’t cutting it.
“More and more health boards are now reliant on support from our UK armed forces just to maintain frontline services.
“Their efforts are hugely welcome but, with winter fast approaching, Humza Yousaf must get a grip of the crisis now.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Another week goes by, with another record failure from the SNP.
“Make no mistake, the people of Scotland are being put in danger due to the SNP’s catastrophic failure to support A&E services.
“Staff are doing the best they can, but lives are on the line as the Health Secretary’s current strategy is clearly not dealing whatsoever with this crisis.
“If action is not taken now, we risk a winter of chaos in A&E departments across Scotland.
“The Health Secretary needs to get a grip of this situation to prevent it getting even worse and act to support staff and strengthen services.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said the “direct and indirect impacts of the Covid pandemic have inevitably affected A&E performance”.
“We recognise that some people aren’t getting the service of care they, or we, would expect and we apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result.
“Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic while continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.
“The Health Secretary has been very clear that this winter is likely to be the most challenging in the history of the NHS.
“To minimise pressures as much as possible, we’ve recently announced £300 million of measures to help increase NHS and social care capacity and reduce delayed discharges which will ensure additional capacity for emergency admissions.”