The health secretary announced a swathe of measures totalling around £300 million of fresh investment into the NHS to help it tackle the combined pressures of one of its toughest ever winters and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
It comes after another difficult week for the NHS, with police officers reporting they regularly take injured people to hospital due to the pressure faced by the ambulance service.
August was also the worst month on record for accident and emergency (A&E) waiting times, with just 77.8 per cent of people who attended emergency departments being seen within four hours.
Figures published on Tuesday also showed that delayed discharges have hit another post-pandemic high, with patients spending a total of 46,171 unnecessary days in Scottish hospitals in August.
Opposition parties labelled the funding a “sticking plaster” and demanded action now rather than in coming weeks.
Addressing MSPs in Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said the NHS and the social care service was under more pressure than at any previous point during the pandemic and that it was “quite frankly is likely to get worse”.
The £300m winter package includes the recruitment of 1,000 additional staff and a rise of the minimum pay to adult social care workers to £10.02, paid for with £48m of funding.
A further £40m will be provided to help pay for hospital patients to temporarily enter care homes or receive additional care at home support while recovering from a hospital stay.
The government’s plans will see no patient held liable for their care at home or in a care home if they choose to take advantage of this policy.
Mr Yousaf also announced £60m to help increase the capacity of care at home services, £20m to enhance “multi-disciplinary teams”, and £28m of additional funding to support primary care services such as GP practices, dentists and optometry.
The health secretary said he rejected “any suggestion that general practice has been closed”, adding that video and phone consultations would remain part of the service offered by GPs.
He said: “However, with recent changes to guidance and the measures we are announcing today, I would expect to see an increase in GP face-to-face appointments.”
Mr Yousaf said £4.5m would be made available to health boards to help recruit 200 foreign registered nurses, and a further £4m would be paid out to help increase pastoral support and other measures such as the provision of drinks and snacks to help improve the morale and mental health among staff.
He told MSPs: “We expect this additional investment to make a significant impact over the course of the winter.
"That being said it is important for me to be upfront and honest with the public and recognise that this winter is likely to be the most challenging we have ever faced.
"I hope many of the actions I have outlined today will have a positive impact in the coming weeks.”
Responding after the statement, the Scottish Labour Party labelled the plan a “sticking plaster” and called for a wage rise to £15 an hour for adult social workers.
"It does feel like a sticking plaster for a much more profound problem,” the party’s health and spokesperson Jackie Baillie said.
Following the statement, she said: “We have A&E services in disarray and over 96,000 people stuck waiting for hospital procedures as cancelled operations soar.
“We need action now to get services back on track, not more promises of jam tomorrow.
“And the planned raise in pay for social care staff is simply insufficient.
“As long as working on the checkout at a supermarket pays more than working as a carer, we will continue to have a staffing crisis.”
Sue Webber, the Scottish Conservative’s public health spokesperson, told Mr Yousaf the NHS needs “urgent action now”.
Speaking after the statement, she added: “This is too little too late from Humza Yousaf. We had been calling for a winter plan for our NHS for weeks and once again he has been too slow to act.
“His statement was still far too thin on detail, similar to his flimsy NHS Recovery Plan he produced in August.
“The need for urgent action is now, not weeks down the line as winter rapidly approaches. Many of his announcements were merely designed to be headline grabbing, rather than improving delivery immediately in our health service.”
Unions also reacted negatively to the announcement of an increase in pay for adult social care workers.
GMB Scotland said only a minimum of £15 an hour would solve the staffing problem.
The union’s secretary, Louise Gilmour, said: “Many of our frontline services are already being delivered on the back of wages of just under or over £10 an hour and we know this isn’t nearly enough.
“To transform social care for the people who need it and the people who deliver it, particularly as we roll-out a national care service, then we must go further.”
Earlier at Holyrood, Covid recovery secretary John Swinney told MSPs that Scotland’s pandemic recovery would have a “laser focus” on reducing inequality.
It came as he published his plan for pandemic recovery on Tuesday, setting out a number of policies to address the damage coronavirus has caused.
Mr Swinney said there would be a particular focus on helping families on low incomes and improving mental health.
Among the policies was a £200m fund for retraining workers whose jobs were at risk due to the pandemic or the transition to a net-zero economy.
The Scottish Child Payment benefit will be extended to low-income families with children aged under 16 by the end of 2022.
The deputy first minister told the Scottish Parliament: “Our recovery must be about creating a fairer Scotland. It cannot be about going back to a way of living that for far too many people in Scotland was simply not good enough.”