Waiting times at A&E departments in Scotland worsened again in the week to January 2, with just 71.6 per cent of patients seen and admitted, transferred or discharged in four hours, according to new figures from Public Health Scotland (PHS).
The number of planned operations cancelled in November increased by 16 per cent compared to the month before.
And a separate report from PHS revealed the number of hospital beds occupied by patients ready to be discharged dropped by 3 per cent in November, but remained 40 per cent higher than the figure in November 2020.
Scotland’s NHS has been working under extraordinary pressure since the summer, amid widespread staff shortages and exceptionally high demand.
Several health boards are receiving assistance from the military. NHS Grampian has warned it may be forced to declare a major incident before the end of the week.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the country was in a “full-blown NHS crisis” with lives on the line.
“Thousands of Scots are waiting in A&E departments and on ever-lengthening waiting lists for treatment – this is unacceptable,” she said.
Ms Baillie added: “The SNP’s repeated failure to support social care services has allowed the scandal of delayed discharge to rear its head again, leading to thousands of Scots being stranded in hospital due to lack of provision.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, also labelled the figures “unacceptable”.
“Despite the wonderful support of UK armed forces, our under-resourced A&E departments simply can’t cope with the huge demands being placed upon them – and the blame for that lies squarely with the SNP Government,” he said.
Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the drop in scheduled operations showed the scale of the pandemic’s impact, and called for an urgent burnout prevention strategy for NHS staff.
Some 20,587 planned operations were scheduled in November, an increase on the previous year, but 9,000 fewer than were scheduled in November 2019.
Of these, 1,605 were cancelled the day before or on the day, with 624 cancelled because of clinical reasons, such as the patient being unwell or unprepared for the procedure, and 523 due to capacity or non-clinical reasons, including there not being enough staff available.
There were 21,861 visits to A&E in Scotland over Hogmanay week, amid warnings from several health boards asking the public to stay away unless their condition is very urgent or life-threatening.
Some 1,296 patients spent more than eight hours waiting in A&E, while 299 waited for over 12 hours.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We remain in the midst of a global pandemic and Scotland's NHS is under more pressure than at any previous stage."
In response to A&E waiting times, the spokesperson said: “Today’s figures have undoubtedly been impacted by Omicron-related staff absences, with health boards reporting a 65 per cent increase in coronavirus absence compared to the previous week.
"This is a reminder of the unprecedented challenges our NHS continues to face, including high levels of people whose condition has deteriorated during the pandemic due to the backlog of waiting lists and the significantly faster rate of increase in Covid hospitalisations this year compared to last January.”