It is “crucial” that people consider whether their condition is an emergency before going to A&E amid significant pressure at hospitals, Humza Yousaf has said.
The health secretary made the remarks as official figures showed that 2,864 patients spent more than eight hours in an emergency department during the week ending September 25.
In the same period, 1,039 patients spent more than 12 hours in an emergency department.
Yousaf will set out his winter plan for the health service at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
He has previously warned of there being a “really difficult winter”, with a high possibility of another Covid-19 wave.
Responding to the latest A&E figures, Yousaf outlined support available to people for non-critical care.
However, opposition parties at Holyrood criticised the health secretary over waiting times.
“A&E departments are working under significant pressure and, in commons with healthcare systems across the UK and globally, the pandemic continues to affect services,” said Yousaf.
“We are supporting health boards to improve performance through a number of measures aimed at reducing pressure on hospitals, including the national roll-out of our out-patient antimicrobial therapy service allowing patients to be treated at home or in the community – which has already saved 45,000 bed days.”
Yousaf explained there has been “sustained pressure” on health services in Scotland.
He added: “As we enter the winter period, it is crucial that people consider whether their condition is an emergency, such as a stroke, heart attack or major trauma, before going to A&E.
“Local GPs and pharmacies can be contacted during the day for non-critical care, NHS 24 is also available on 111 for non-emergencies.
“I am grateful to everyone working in the healthcare system for their continues efforts in the face of sustained pressure on services.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton accused ministers of having “sat on their hands” while the NHS suffers.
“Just days ago we saw the SNP-Green government vote down an inquiry into avoidable deaths linked to the emergency care crisis,” he said.
“Now, today, we see yet another week of interminable waits in our A&E departments.
“Ministers have sat on their hands long enough while the NHS suffers. Patients and staff cannot carry on like this.”
Cole-Hamilton urged Yousaf to back calls for an inquiry into avoidable deaths linked to emergency care.
“When Humza Yousaf comes to Holyrood this afternoon he has to set out a serious new strategy to address this crisis. More of the same will not cut it,” he continued.
“He must drop his opposition to an inquiry into avoidable deaths linked to the crisis in emergency care.
“He must also adopt Lib Dem plans for a burnout prevention strategy, which would give staff extra protection, and a health and care staff assembly to put their expertise at the heart of the response to this crisis.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane warned that “lives are at stake” as he insisted that the winter plan must deliver.
He said: “These appalling waiting times may have become the norm on Humza Yousaf’s watch, but we cannot simply accept this shameful state of affairs.
“August’s A&E waiting times are the worst on record in every category, seeing tens of thousands of patients suffering excess delays despite the best efforts of overwhelmed frontline staff.
“The Scottish Conservatives have exposed the reality of A&E services under the stewardship of Humza Yousaf, from one patient waiting 84 hours to be treated to a 96-year-old having to spend 40 hours on a trolley.”
The Glasgow MSP added: “Humza Yousaf is now belatedly bringing forward a statement on winter planning and this time, it has to deliver.
“Lives are at stake and the Scottish public will not accept any more of his excuses.”