The number of people attending accident and emergency departments in Scotland has fallen by more than 55% compared to the previous year, latest figures show.
Official NHS Scotland statistics reveal just 11,881 people attended A&E in the second week of April, down from 26,674 patients last year and 25,067 in 2018.
The figures follow an urgent plea from Scotland’s chief medical officer that people should still seek help during the coronavirus pandemic.
The drop in attendances has coincided with the highest proportion of people being seen within the Scottish Government’s four-hour target than at any point since November 2017.
A total of 11,055 patients – 93.6% – were admitted to hospital, directed to another service or discharged home within four hours.
A further 757 had to wait more than four hours to be seen, 56 were seen after eight hours, while 13 people waited more than 12 hours.
The latest A&E waiting time figures have been welcomed by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, who said: “This is due to the continued hard work and dedication of our health and social care staff who are providing an exceptional level of care during these extraordinary times.
“Each and every one of you has my very grateful thanks.”
Ms Freeman added: “While members of the public are continuing to listen to advice and only going to A&E if illnesses are immediate or life-threatening, I do want to urge people not to ignore early warning signs of serious conditions.
“If you have new symptoms then it’s vital you get this checked out by contacting your GP, calling NHS 24, or if symptoms are urgent by attending A&E.
“We are working closely with health boards and partnerships to ensure robust plans are in place to strengthen capacity and minimise the impact of COVID-19 across the health system.”
At the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith urged people to seek medical help and advice if they need it or have noticed new symptoms, following concerns from doctors that fewer patients are coming forward.
Dr Smith also revealed the number of patients with suspected cancer being sent for urgent referrals is down by 72%.
“Please don’t delay unnecessarily,” he said.
“Your NHS remains here for you, please seek help and attention when you need it.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The drop in A&E attendance raises huge questions about the number of people not seeking help for serious non-Covid-related illnesses.
“Anyone who spots worrying changes or has concerns should seek medical advice as they usually would.
“People’s anxiety about leaving their homes or going to places which could possibly expose them to the virus is natural.
“But it’s important we do as much as possible to promote the fact that there are still safe places you can get medical help.”