The First Minister was accused of overseeing “systemic failure” in the health service. Opposition politicians raised cases including 32-hour ambulance waits and a cancer patient who died after waiting months for a diagnosis and treatment.
Ms Sturgeon said the cases were “unacceptable”, but insisted it was "not possible” to separate the pressures from spending decisions taken down south.
She clashed with Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, hitting out at his previous support for scrapping the top rate of tax.
Ms Sturgeon said such a shift in policy would give “millions of pounds” to the richest people in society instead of the health service.
Mr Ross was questioning the First Minister after figures showed more than 5,000 people waited longer than 12 hours at accident-and-emergency (A&E) departments in August.
He 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.
The Scottish Tories leader added: “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 First Minister said she had “enormous sympathy” for Mr 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.”
Mr Ross said a Freedom of Information request showed one person in Ayrshire and Arran waited more than 32 hours for an ambulance – more than 100 times longer than the target response time.
He also challenged the First Minister to tackle ambulance turn-around delays, after a Glasgow patient had to wait 13 hours in an ambulance before a hospital bed became available.
He said people’s lives “are on the line”.
Ms Sturgeon said the incidents were not acceptable.
She said £45 million for the Scottish Ambulance Service formed part of the £600m winter plan announced this week.
Elsewhere, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the cases of two patients who faced long waits for treatment in the NHS.
He said one of them, Anne Sinclair, 64, from Edinburgh, died this summer after waiting seven months for diagnoses and five months for treatment of an aggressive form of cancer.
Mr 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’.”
Ms 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 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.”
Mr Sarwar said: "A failure to get to grips with the NHS crisis is costing lives.”