Ruth Davidson has called on the First Minister to stop cutting hospital beds while Scotland is in the midst of a "flu crisis".

Nicola Sturgeon said the rate of flu infections was now four times higher than a year ago, with 107 Scots per 100,000 of the population suffering from the virus in the first week of January.

Despite this she insisted the NHS was "coping admirably" as she claimed the health service in Scotland was the best in the UK.

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The SNP leader spoke out as she came under sustained pressure from Ms Davidson, Labour leader Richard Leonard and Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie over the performance of the NHS this winter.

The Scottish Conservative leader said: "People are waiting too long in A&E departments because there are no beds for them on wards, and because many of those hospital beds are taken up by patients who are waiting for their social care arrangements.

"But this SNP government has cut both hospital beds and elderly social care places, so when something like a flu crisis hits, the system breaks down.

"We need a moratorium before the next crisis, so will the First Minister promise to stop cutting hospital beds until patients have somewhere to go?"

Mr Leonard claimed the First Minister had been "found out on her NHS spin".

He used First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the case of 80-year-old Tom Wilson from Newtongrage in Midlothian, who he said waited more than three hours for an ambulance after a fall on New Year's Day, before spending 13 hours on a trolley in A&E.

Official figures this week showed A&E departments had recorded the worst performance against a key waiting target since weekly reporting began, with 78% of patients dealt with in four hours - significantly below the Scottish Government's 95% target.

Ms Sturgeon hit back, saying: "I don't know if Ruth Davidson has bothered to look at the news this morning, where clinicians in England are saying that they have run out of beds in the NHS."

The higher flu rate in Scotland means the health service here is under greater pressure than the rest of the UK, she added.

The First Minister said: "Nevertheless, Scotland's NHS remains the best-performing NHS anywhere in the United Kingdom.

"And it is about time that the opposition recognised the achievements of those working so hard on the frontline of our National Health Service."

But Ms Davidson said there were almost 2,000 fewer hospital beds in Scotland than there were five years ago, when the total was more than 23,000.

As well as the fall in beds, she claimed social care places for the elderly were declining too.

The Conservative told Ms Sturgeon: "The number of beds in Scotland are being cut at nearly double the rate of England's hospitals.

"And the number of elderly social care beds in England has actually gone up over five years and under her tenure they have gone down in Scotland.

"So we have both the number of hospital beds falling in Scotland and the number of elderly social care places have fallen too.

"And the consequence is obvious. It means that hospitals get filled, it means that thousands of elderly patients can't be discharged because there is nowhere for them to go.

"If there are fewer hospital beds and fewer social care places for the elderly is it any surprise that we have a problem?"

Ms Sturgeon responded that "hundreds of additional winter surge beds" had been set up in hospitals as part of NHS winter planning.

She also stressed the health service had been dealing with an "unprecedented increase in demand" in recent weeks.

The First Minister told MSPs at Holyrood: "Much of that increased demand has been down to an increase in flu rates over this winter.

"It was reported last week in the seven days up to Hogmanay flu rates were more than double the same period last year.

"Figures for the first week in January are about to be published by Health Protection Scotland and they show a further doubling of flu rates in Scotland.

"Last week it was 46 per 100,000. That has gone to 107 per 100,000 - that is four times the level of flu in this week last year.

"In spite of all that thanks to winter planning, thanks to the efforts of our NHS staff, our NHS is coping admirably."

She went on to attack the Tories, saying the party's tax policies would remove £500 million from the funds the government has to invest in the NHS.

The First Minister asked: "Does Ruth Davidson know what £500 million amounts to in terms of nurses?

"That is equivalent to 12,000 nurses the Tories would remove from our National Health Service."

Mr Leonard told the First Minister that pensioner Mr Wilson had waited more than 16 hours for treatment on January 1.

He said: "He fell on New Year's Day and lay bleeding for three hours-and-a-quarter waiting for an ambulance.

"His son called 999 seven times - only to be told that an ambulance was coming, not from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary which was just 14 minutes away, but from Kelso.

"Mr Wilson then spent 13 hours on a trolley in a corridor in A&E before being admitted to a general ward.

"That is an 80-year-old man with underlying health conditions waiting more than sixteen hours for treatment."

The Labour leader read an extract from a letter from Mr Wilson's son Michael to Health Secretary Shona Robison, which said: "I am sure you will say that it's got nothing to do with you or the SNP and blame Westminster.

"I've seen on the news your answer is 'we are doing better than England'. Is this a joke?"

Mr Leonard continued: "First Minister, you've been found out by the people of Scotland.

"The doctors, the nurses, the ambulance crews, the patients and their families want to know what you are going to do to fix this mess that you have created in our NHS."

Ms Sturgeon responded: "What I say to Mr Wilson is very simple, I say sorry to Mr Wilson if that was his experience of the health service.

"I said earlier this week, the health secretary said in the chamber, that we apologise unreservedly not just at winter but at any time of the year to any patient who waits longer than they should do for hospital treatment or doesn't get the standard of treatment that they have a right to expect and I do that again, unequivocally, today.

"I am not standing here saying, and we have not said at any stage, that some patients are not waiting longer during these winter times than we would want them to wait.

"That is down to the fact that we are facing demand and increases in demand that are unprecedented."

Liberal Democrat leader Mr Rennie said: "The pressure faced by the NHS has been coming for years, it was largely predictable.

"The long waits at accident and emergency units are in part because of failures elsewhere in the NHS - failures in three fundamentals - in mental health, in social care and in primary care."

Mr Rennie said staff and patients were suffering because of Ms Sturgeon's "failure to do her job over the last 10 years".

"She can't hide behind the NHS in England or even in Wales, and she can't hide behind just blandly thanking NHS staff over and over again," he said.

"We're 800 GPs short - that's her responsibility - 3,000 Scots are waiting for mental health treatment - that's her responsibility.

"And today 1,000 people are stuck in hospital because of a lack of home care - that is her responsibility."

He added: "We're all proud of NHS staff enduring the conditions created by Nicola Sturgeon, but tell me, is she really proud of what she has done to our NHS?"