Scotland’s A&E departments have recorded their third-worst week on record for missing the waiting-time target.
Only 78.7% of the 26,193 patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, the lowest level since January 2018.
That is down from 80.1% the previous week and only the fifth time since records began that more than one in five patients were left waiting beyond the target time.
In addition to the 5,583 patients who waited longer than four hours to be seen, NHS Scotland figures for the week ending July 18 also reveal 856 patients were waiting in A&E for more than eight hours and 169 people faced waits of more than 12 hours.
The Scottish Government’s target is for 95% of patients to wait no longer than four hours, although this has not been met since July 2020.
Across Scotland, NHS Forth Valley is once again the worst-performing health board, with only 58.3% of the 1,211 patients seen within four hours – down from 65.1% the previous week
It is followed by NHS Lanarkshire, which saw 66.8% of the 4,157 patients in the target time (down from 68.5% in the week ending July 11) and then NHS Lothian with 78.1%.
The health boards of Shetland and Orkney were the only ones to exceed the 95% target, achieving 98.5% and 98.4% respectively.
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This is yet another damning indictment on the SNP’s failure to remobilise NHS services.
“A&E waiting times are spiralling further and further out of control, and the Health Secretary seems to be at a loss over how to tackle it.
“The SNP has failed to remobilise the NHS and to deal with the huge medical backlog.
“We can have no doubt that the treatment backlog is pushing more and more desperate Scots into A&E and emergency clinicians have been warning about this problem for months.
“The Health Secretary must act and act now to stop the downward spiral in our A&E. The people of Scotland deserve so much better than this.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Annie Wells said: “Humza Yousaf needs to wake up and recognise the reality of what is happening on the frontline in our NHS. Only last week he claimed there wasn’t a crisis in our health service.
“Now we see the worst accident and emergency waiting times on record since the first week of 2018.
“Over a fifth of patients are not being seen within the SNP’s target time of four hours and nearly 900 patients waited more than eight hours to be treated.
“That is completely unacceptable and unsustainable going forward. Our heroic health service staff are overwhelmed as they continue to tackle the Covid pandemic, as well as trying to treat accident and emergency patients as quickly as possible.
“Waiting times are getting worse week on week and threatening to spiral out of control.
“Rather than downplaying issues, Humza Yousaf should urgently work with frontline staff to guarantee patients will be treated within target times set by SNP ministers.”
Asked about the waiting time figures during Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “There is a big backlog in our health service.
“That’s not unique to Scotland, it’s the case in all four nations of the UK and it will be the case in many other parts of the world because of Covid-19.
“We are very keen to continue and accelerate the pace of recovery of that backlog.
“That will be held back anytime we have a resurgence of Covid that is leading to significant numbers of patients with Covid being in our hospitals; every bed that has a Covid patient is a bed that is not there to treat non-Covid conditions.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “In terms of A&E waiting times, there is undoubtedly a big Covid impact on that but, as we all know, the flow of patients into and through our National Health Service is complex.
“Therefore there are issues around the reasons and the circumstances in which people are presenting at A&E, whether that’s always appropriate or whether there are better places for them to go.
“Often the speed at which people will go through A&E will depend on pressure elsewhere in a hospital.
“Some of that right now will be Covid but there are other factors at play around all of that as well which is why we’re doing a lot of work around supporting and encouraging people to go to the most appropriate place for care rather than everybody, almost by default, going to A&E.
“NHS recovery is a big feature of all of our work right now, and will continue to be the case for quite some time to come.”