The First Minister faced stinging criticism from both main opposition parties in Holyrood, with Scottish Labour highlighting the plight of ambulance staff and lagging turn-around times at accident-and-emergency (A&E) departments.
Anas Sarwar, leader of the party, highlighted figures showing more than 2,700 ambulances had waited almost two hours to drop off patients at emergency departments in the past month. At the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, he revealed 69 waited almost four hours to drop off critically ill patients.
Mr Sarwar said: “This Government has no grip of the NHS crisis. Staff are being asked to do the impossible. Patients are being asked to accept the unacceptable, but this Government are still in denial.
“We have growing queues at A&Es for treatment, ambulances off the road for hours trying to drop off patients, and people waiting in pain for help to come. All of this is before we have even reached the worst of winter. Lives will be lost as a result.
“The health secretary now says it’s going to take another five years to fix the problem – a problem that has been 15 years in the making. After 15 years of SNP Government, patients shouldn’t have to wait a minute longer.”
Ambulance workers are set to strike over a pay dispute with the Scottish Government, despite interim finance minister John Swinney claiming there was no more money to increase the offer already on the table, sitting at around 7 per cent for NHS staff.
Ms Sturgeon pointed at the political response to the health service in Wales also struggling, asking Mr Sarwar why he was unable to blame Westminster for a lack of funding of the health system. Highlighting quotes from the Welsh Labour government saying the country’s NHS would be “hell on earth” without additional funding from Westminster, the SNP leader added: “How come it is the case that Labour in Wales can recognise that reality, but Labour in Scotland is so clearly filled to defending the Tories they are blind to that reality?
“We will do everything we can in terms of the management of our NHS. But the fact of the matter is we do need more funding for our NHS and that can only come from decisions that are taken at Westminster.”
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, criticised the Government for a £500,000 spend on sending 15,000 patient scans overseas, including as far afield as Australia. He said: “Whether the First Minister wants to admit it or not, Scotland’s NHS is in crisis at every level. Patient scans are being sent abroad, waiting lists are at record levels, the situation at accident and emergency is the most critical it has ever been and delayed discharge is plaguing our hospitals worse than ever before. Given the SNP’s mismanagement of our NHS, it’s little wonder staff and patients alike are terrified of what awaits them this winter.”
Defending the position, Ms Sturgeon said: “The NHS will always take steps to ensure the speediest possible diagnosis of patients and the speediest possible treatment of patients … that will represent a tiny, tiny fraction of the processing of scans overall in Scotland.”