OPPOSITION parties are playing "political" games with their calls to sack Scotland's Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The health service has struggled in recent months, with A&E waiting times worsening and nurses across the UK threatening to strike.
But Nicola Sturgeon defended Humza Yousaf on Monday as she visited a school in Glasgow’s east end, urging opposition parties to stop their “political game playing”.
“I have absolute confidence in Humza Yousaf,” she said.
“Anybody who thinks the challenges – the very real challenges – our National Health Service is facing now is down to who the Health Secretary is, probably doesn’t understand the nature of those challenges,” she said.
The First Minister said that the NHS was performing “better in many respects” than the health service in England and Wales, pointing out the opposition parties in Scotland calling for Yousaf to go – Labour and the Conservatives – are in power in control of health in those countries.
She added: “I think what we need to see from the opposition is a bit less political game-playing over the NHS and a real focus on the very real and very hard challenges that our National Health Service is facing.
“That is what I am bringing to bear and that is what Humza Yousaf is bringing to bear.”
Addressing the looming strikes in the health service, which will include nurses, ambulance staff and physiotherapists if a deal is not reached, the First Minister said there was “political will” in Scotland for a higher settlement, but the finances were lacking.
“The management of the health service is absolutely the responsibility of the Scottish Government, but our ability to put more resources into the health service depends on decisions taken by the UK Government which determines the overall size of our budget,” she said.
“We can see from the higher pay increase that NHS workers are being offered in Scotland compared to England and Wales, that political will is there in Scotland – what is holding us back is a lack of funding, and that can only come now from the UK Government.”
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's health spokesperson, rejected the assertion demands for Yousaf to be sacked were "political game playing" and reiterated her calls for the Health Secretary to resign.
The Dunbarton MSP said: “The current Health Secretary is the worst since devolution. He is facing substantial strike action, and has overseen chaos in every area of the NHS.
"Waiting times for ambulances, waiting times at A&E and waiting times for elective surgery are at an all time high.
“It is far from 'political game playing' to point this out. Humza Yousaf has failed to act and has lost the confidence of both patients and staff.
“He is unable to give basic information on his contingency plan in the event that strikes go ahead, or even when he will meet with unions to try and avert strike action.
“Despite what the First Minister may say, Humza Yousaf is completely out of his depth and absolutely has to go.”