The SNP have been accused of “failing to re-mobilise the NHS” after new figures revealed A&E waiting times were the worst since January 2018.
Opposition politicians have claimed a “treatment backlog” is “pushing more and more desperate Scots into accident and emergency” in a bid to access care.
The latest statistics from Public Health Scotland show just 78.7% of attendances at A&E were seen within four hours, the poorest weekly figure in three years.
The target set by the Scottish Government is 95%, which was only achieved by two of Scotland’s 14 health boards in the last week: Shetland and Orkney.
The figures for the week ending July 2021 show 856 patients spent more than eight hours in an A&E department and 169 patients spent more than 12 hours.
The figures reveal 81.3% of patients were seen within four hours in Grampian and 87.3% in Highland.
Fife also fell below the key target, seeing just 79.8% of patients within the timescale and Tayside very narrowly missed it by 0.6%.
Scottish Labour said the statistics demonstrate the SNP’s “complete failure” to re-mobilise the NHS and has demanded that the government “get a grip” of the situation.
Jackie Baillie, the party’s deputy leader and health spokeswoman, described the figures as “another damning indictment”.
She added: “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.
“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.”
Asked about the latest figures during a Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday, the first minister admitted there is a “big backlog” in the country’s health service.
But stressed this is “not unique to Scotland” and exists in “all four nations of the UK” and in “many other parts of the world” due to Covid-19.
In terms of A&E waiting times, Ms Sturgeon said there is “undoubtedly a big Covid impact”.
However, she added that the situation often depends on “the circumstances for which people are presenting at A&E, whether that’s always appropriate or whether there’s better places for them to go”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “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.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said A&E departments across the country are continuing to deal with “unsustainable pressure”.
He added the figures represent a “colossal failure on the part of the government to properly support NHS staff at this difficult time”.
The MSP traced the issue back to pre-pandemic when he claimed patients were “not receiving treatment in good time”.
Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman, described the situation as “completely unacceptable and unsustainable going forward”.
She added: “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.”
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said its accident and emergency department has become “increasingly busy over recent weeks”, following the easing of lockdown measures.
She added: “NHS Tayside consistently achieves the Scottish Government’s four hour waiting time target and has been the top performing territorial Board in Scotland for many years.
“Staff in our A&E’s work hard to see patients as quickly as possible, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.
“We have developed a service that relies on the availability of senior doctors and nurses so that they can become involved in clinical decisions at an early stage to minimise delays and maintain a high quality service.”