DOUGLAS Ross has accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of making “political points” over the NHS as she clashed with opposition leaders over health service waiting times.
While Ross focused his questioning on A&E waiting times, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the cases of two patients who were left waiting for months for treatment.
The pair clashed during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, with Sturgeon hitting out at Ross’s previous support for scrapping the top rate of tax in the rest of the UK and calling for a similar move in Scotland.
The Scottish Government refused to copy the UK Government’s actions which led to the collapse of the pound and an emergency intervention from the Bank of England, before the Chancellor U-turned on the policy.
The FM said such a shift in policy would give “millions of pounds” to the richest people in society instead of the health service.
Ross was questioning the FM on the performance of the NHS in Scotland, after figures this week showed more than 5000 people waited longer than 12 hours at A&E in August.
But Sturgeon said: “It frankly beggars belief that Douglas Ross stands here today and talks about the National Health Service, because I think his concern for the National Health Service today is even less convincing than it normally is.
%image('16016922', type="article-full", alt="Ross detailed his own experiences of the NHS during FMQs")
“Because, of course, he spent much of the last week arguing for us to take millions of pounds and put that into the pockets of the richest in our society, regardless of the impact that would have on our National Health Service.”
Ross recounted his own experience with the NHS, mentioning how he was forced to drive behind an ambulance carrying his wife while she was in labour and seeing his newborn son undergo medical treatment.
He said: “First Minister, please don’t ever question my commitment to our National Health Service.
“When it was just over a year ago I had to follow my wife in an ambulance as she gave birth, when it was just over a year ago that I had to see my infant child on oxygen and fed through a tube in Aberdeen sick kids hospital.
“Don’t make political points out of this, when politicians are raising serious issues.”
The FM said she had “enormous sympathy” for Ross’s experience, but added: “I do think it is reasonable to question the commitment to the National Health Service of anybody who argues for millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to go to cutting taxes for the richest in our society rather than be invested in the National Health Service.”
The FM was also questioned about a case where the turnaround time for an ambulance was longer than 13 hours.
Ross said the figure had come to his party as the result of a freedom of information request, as he attacked Sturgeon over NHS waiting times.
He said: “This is a critical time when an ambulance could be deployed to help other patients.”
The FM pointed to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf’s announcement earlier this week for £600 million funding for the NHS.
She added: “Of course, £45 million for the Scottish Ambulance Service was part of the winter plan that was announced – and that was about Scotland’s National Health Service.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also focused his questions on the NHS, raising the cases of two patients who faced long waits for treatment, and said that one, Anne Sinclair, died this summer after waiting seven months for a diagnosis and five months for treatment of an aggressive cancer.
Sarwar said: “Her last words to her son Ricky were: ‘Keep fighting, tell my story, we need to stop this happening to anyone else. I love you.'”
Sturgeon said cases where the NHS falls short are “unacceptable”, but for the “overwhelming majority” it provides an “outstanding service”.
She said: “I don’t shy away from, I will never shy away from, the serious challenges and pressures on our National Health Service.
“That is why it’s so incumbent on the Government to support the National Health Service with the investment and the other forms of support that it needs.
“We will always do that for the sake of patients like Anne.”
%image('16016929', type="article-full", alt="Anas Sarwar also focused his questioning on the NHS")
Later in the session, the First Minister confirmed that Public Health Minister Maree Todd will bring forward new regulations for the vaping sector in the New Year.
And, during an exchange with Tory MSP Graham Simpson, the FM signalled her support for the introduction of pregnancy loss certificates for grieving families.
The FM also condemned “vile racists” who hurled abuse at primary children after she visited their school. Staff later reported the social media vitriol to the police as a hate crime.
Sturgeon told the chamber that "nothing turns my stomach more than the idea of adults that can look at a photo of beautiful clever children and only see the colour of their skin".
The FM also said the Scottish Government would “consider support” for the Filmhouse Cinema and Café Bar in Edinburgh and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen which announced earlier on Thursday that they would be closing due to the cost-of-living crisis.