FMQs: John Swinney warned Scotland's NHS is 'collapsing' and 'lives are on the line'

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has been warned the NHS is “collapsing” and “lives are on the line” as he was forced to defend dire accident-and-emergency (A&E) figures amid the confirmation of widespread nursing strikes.

Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross has called for health secretary Humza Yousaf to be sacked as figures published earlier this week showed the proportion of people seen and subsequently admitted or discharged within four hours in A&E departments fell to 63.1 per cent – the lowest on record.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced on Wednesday that members in every health board in the country had voted in favour of industrial action in response to a flat £2,205 pay offer from the Scottish Government. Strikes are expected to take place before the end of this year.

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Mr Ross said: “Scotland’s NHS is in crisis and whoever the SNP try to blame, it’s obvious that the man responsible is sitting right there next to the Deputy First Minister. Humza Yousaf has failed and all he can do is spin that the NHS is in recovery, when really it’s at breaking point.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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“Just how much worse does it have to get for patients and staff before he takes responsibility? “Deputy First Minister, Scotland’s NHS deserves better than Humza Yousaf. When will this health secretary be sacked?”

Mr Ross stressed A&E figures had now hit a record low on 14 occasions during Mr Yousaf’s tenure as health secretary.

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“It’s now beyond doubt that this health secretary has failed,” he said.

"Dr [Lailah] Peel, chair of BMA Scotland’s junior doctors’ committee, said this week ‘right now, it’s been so awful, for so long, we’re simply broken, overwhelmed, exhausted, with nothing left to give’.

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John Swinney, standing alongside health secretary Humza Yousaf, speaks at First Minister's Questions. Picture: Scottish Parliament TV

"As far as I can see, the NHS is collapsing around us. Staff are leaving in their droves to protect themselves.”

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Mr Swinney, who was standing in for Nicola Sturgeon while the First Minister was meeting Rishi Sunak in Blackpool, said the call from Mr Ross was a “laughable proposition” given ministerial resignations within the Conservative UK Government in recent months.

“I’ve been active in politics for many years, a member of Parliament for a quarter century, and you know when somebody’s run out of road when they start playing the man and not the issue,” he added, to extended applause from the SNP benches.

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Mr Swinney added: "I accept there are challenges in the National Health Service. But I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the members of staff who are working phenomenally hard on the back of a pandemic that Mr Ross has never acknowledged.”

John Swinney, standing alongside health secretary Humza Yousaf, speaks at First Minister's Questions. Picture: Scottish Parliament TV
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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told Mr Swinney the NHS faced the worst crisis in its history, which was “all on the SNP’s watch”.

Mr Sarwar told Mr Swinney “his head is frankly in the sand”, adding: “This health secretary and this Government are clearly out of their depth.”

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Speaking to journalists after FMQs, a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said she did have confidence in Mr Yousaf as health secretary, adding pressures on the health service were not unique to Scotland.

He said: “If Douglas Ross wants to make himself useful, he can ask the United Kingdom Government to increase the budget for the Scottish Government so we can support the NHS to a greater extent.”

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