Michael Matheson is facing fresh calls to quit as Health Secretary as figures show more than a third of patients in accident and emergency had to wait longer than the target time for care.
The latest waiting time figures for the week ending January 21 show 62% of patients were either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
That is down from 64.1% the previous week and continues to be below the goal of having 95% of patients dealt with in that time.
Mr Matheson said the service “remains under sustained pressure” and he conceded “waiting times are longer than we want them to be for some patients”.
But Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Dame Jackie Baillie hit out at the “deadly disarray in our A&E departments”.
Insisting it is time for Mr Matheson to “step aside”, she added: “We simply cannot have thousands of lives being put in danger on a weekly basis due to this SNP Government’s catastrophic failure to support our NHS and its hardworking staff.
“Under Michael Matheson our NHS has lurched from crisis to crisis, while he has been preoccupied with saving his own job.”
The latest figures from Public Health Scotland show 23,615 patients attended A&E in the week to January 21 – with 8,963 waiting longer than the four-hour target time.
That includes 3,831 patients (16.2%) who were in A&E for eight hours or more, and 1,912 (8.1%) who spent 12 hours or longer there.
At the flagship Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, almost two-thirds of patients spent more than four hours in A&E – with only 35.7% admitted, transferred or discharged inside the target time.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These shameful and worsening figures expose the true crisis that plagues our A&E departments after 16 years of the SNP’s dire workforce planning and mismanagement of our NHS.”
Dr Gulhane, who is a GP, said patients face “dangerous and unacceptable waits in our emergency wards”, insisting this is “simply not good enough”.
He added: “Excessive delays in A&E lead to unnecessary loss of life, yet Michael Matheson has failed to tackle this growing problem, instead continuing the legacy of NHS failure started by his predecessors.
“If he refuses to quit, the discredited and distracted Health Secretary must finally get a grip on this crisis.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures show below-target performance in accident and emergency units has “become the new normal”, claiming “years of SNP ministerial disinterest are coming home to roost”.
Mr Matheson said: “Emergency departments across Scotland are continuing to deal with heightened winter pressures, with similar demand being felt throughout the UK.
“Increased seasonal illness including Covid, flu and norovirus and high levels of occupancy and delayed discharge are all contributing to increased pressure on services.
“Hospital bed occupancy continues to be a major factor impacting on performance.
“To tackle this, our delayed discharge and hospital occupancy action plan is being implemented at pace, delivering actions we know work to reduce delays, including early planning, deployment of multi-agency teams and involvement of the patient, their family and carers.”