HEALTH Secretary Humza Yousaf has urged Scots to think twice before calling 999 for an ambulance, as he warned the NHS is facing an “extraordinarily difficult winter”.

While he pledged any additional cash that could be found would be spent trying to ease the pressure on the health service, the Health Secretary conceded it “will be a challenging autumn and winter”.

In light of that, he said people should consider whether it is “absolutely critical” for them to call for an ambulance.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases has resulted in rising numbers of patients in hospital with the virus – with the total now more than 1000 again.

This in turn is putting pressure on other parts of the health service.

It emerged last week that the number of patients who spend more than the target time four hours in accident and emergency has hit record highs.

Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland: “We are in for an extraordinarily difficult winter.

“We know that the flu season could be extremely challenging, we know that people that are presenting – whether it is presenting to the ambulance service or GPs or A&E – they are presenting more sick because they haven’t presented for the last 18 months.

“Looking at the data the last time we had 1,000 patients in hospital with Covid was December 2020, our A&E presentations now, when we have the same number of Covid patients, is 40% higher.”

The Health Secretary told the Good Morning Scotland programme: “I can’t get away from the fact that we are in an extremely challenging winter and that is why we’re investing as much as we possibly can.”

And he pledged: “Whatever money I can find, additional resources I can find to help the NHS, I can promise you that will all be spent to tackle what will be a challenging autumn and winter.”

The Scottish Government has already outlined a £1 billion NHS recovery plan, to help the service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yousaf also stressed the ambulance service was being given an “extra £20 million injection” to help boost staff numbers.

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“We are beginning to see more and more ambulance staff recruited,” he said.

“That recruitment is happening now, so we are helping to staff up the ambulance service.”

When asked directly if people should “think twice” before calling for ambulance, Yousaf said: “Yes is the short answer to that.”

He stated: “I don’t doubt that people do that because they are in distressing situations, I think most people only call when they are in that extreme distress.”

Yousaf said people who were “picking up the phone to call 999 to call an ambulance” should consider if this is “absolutely critical” – although he stressed if it was they should “of course make that call and the ambulance service will get to you as quickly as they possibly can”.