NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday launched a defence of her government’s treatment of the NHS amid mounting criticism of claims she made that the service was performing better than it did under Labour.
The First Minister spoke out at the Plaid Cymru conference yesterday, as her opponents stepped up their attacks on the SNP’s stewardship of the health service.
As Labour attempted to link NHS failings to Ms Sturgeon’s tenure as Health Secretary, the First Minister defended her record.
“Don’t get me wrong - our NHS faces challenges. An ageing population is leading to increasing demand and it is a daily focus of me and my government to make sure we support the NHS to deal with that demand,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“But here’s the reality. If Labour had won back in 2007, our NHS would be less able to meet that demand, not more able. Back then, Labour said that any extra cash would be spent on education and that the NHS would have to cut its cloth.
“They also planned to close two accident and emergency units. The SNP promised these A&E units would stay open; we found a way to keep them open and since we saved them from Labour’s axe, they have treated more than 800,000 patients between them.”
Ms Sturgeon also said Plaid Cymru had the potential to replicate the SNP’s success in Scotland by unseating the Labour administration in Wales.
She thanked the many Plaid Cymru activists who had travelled to Scotland to help campaign for a Yes vote during last year’s Scottish referendum.
Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s claims on health, a Labour spokesman said: “Nicola Sturgeon has picked a funny week to talk about her record on the NHS. Just this week the experts at Audit Scotland exposed the huge problems in our health service on the SNP government’s watch. An audience of nationalists might be impressed by her warm words but the thousands of patients who have waited more than four hours at A&E know otherwise.”
An Audit Scotland report this week identified tightening budgets, rising costs, higher demand for services, pressure to meet targets and increased staff vacancies in Scotland’s NHS.
Meanwhile, Labour yesterday attempted to ramp up the pressure on the SNP by highlighting figures which showed more than 2,000 nursing jobs were cut during Ms Sturgeon’s time as health minister.
They also produced figures showing training places for nursing and midwifery students were cut by more than a fifth between 2009 and 2012 and a five per cent cut in funding for medical students since 2008/09.
Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “We are looking at shortages of nurses, midwives and family doctors because of decisions made by this SNP Government.”