GP practices in part of Scotland are to open on Saturdays to help relieve pressure on the NHS during the current “extremely challenging period”.

Bosses at NHS Lanarkshire said many family doctor surgeries in the health board area will open extra hours on Saturdays during January.

It comes amid warnings from Health Secretary Humza Yousaf that the NHS is facing one of the toughest winters in its 74-year history.

Pressure on services saw a record 1925 Scots spend more than 12 hours waiting in accident and emergency units in the seven days to December 25 – the highest total ever in a single week.

READ MORE: How Brexit has worsened bed blocking and the UK's NHS crisis

Mark Russell, medical director at NHS Lanarkshire, said: “These extended GP opening hours will help ensure that patients in need of urgent care are able to access their own GP quickly during January.

“Those GPs who have agreed to extend their opening hours will be able to support colleagues during this extremely challenging period, for which we are extremely grateful.

“This will help ensure that people receive the right care in the right place as quickly as possible, which will help us manage pressure across the whole healthcare system at this current time.”

Dr Russell thanked local people for their “continued understanding” as he stressed: “We’re here to look after everyone in lots of ways this winter.”

Those who are unwell and who cannot get an appointment with their GP are urged to check their symptoms online at the NHS Inform website, or call NHS 24 on 111 to access out-of-hours care.

Opticians – some of whom are open on Saturdays – can provide advice on eye problems. Pharmacists may also be able to provide expert help, with their opening times listed online on the NHS Inform website.

Christine Gilmour, director of pharmacy at NHS Lanarkshire, said: “Dropping into your local pharmacy means you can get help and advice on a range of health conditions.

“Help with medicines is also available and with the NHS Pharmacy First scheme, you may be eligible to receive over-the-counter medicines free of charge when you need them.

“Pharmacies also dispense prescriptions and most supply emergency contraception.”