Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of being the “Beeching of the NHS” for presiding over cuts to rural health services.
The comparison between the First Minister and Dr Richard Beeching, who axed railways in the 1960s, was made by Shadow Health Secretary Miles Briggs ahead of a visit to Orkney.
Mr Briggs blamed the Scottish Government for a series of NHS cuts outside Scotland’s big cities in places like West Lothian, Perthshire and the Highlands.
But the SNP dismissed Mr Briggs’s remarks as “laughable” and pointed out that it was the Conservative party which established the Beeching Review that was to lead to the closure of many rural railways.
Mr Briggs was last night heading for the Northern Isles to meet local healthcare professionals to discuss issues affecting the NHS outside the Central Belt.
He criticised the Scottish Government for its “centralising” attitude.
Mr Briggs pointed out that NHS Highland is seeking a £19 million bail out while it embarks on cutbacks like the closure of the maternity ward at Dr Gray’s in Elgin.
A campaign has launched to try and retain services in the Perth Royal Infirmary which is facing downgrading of its accident and emergency department with more patients being treated in Dundee.
While Fife has seen anger over plans to move services at Dunfermline, St Andrews and Glenrothes to Kirkcaldy.
In Fife, patients were furious when it emerged services provided in places like Dunfermline, St Andrews and Glenrothes would be focused on Kirkcaldy.
This week it emerged dozens of children a month are transferred by ambulance from St John’s Hospital in Livingston to the Sick Kids facility in the centre of Edinburgh following the closure last summer of the 24/7 admissions unit.
“Nicola Sturgeon has become to Scotland’s NHS in rural communities what Beeching was to railways,” Mr Briggs said.
“The SNP government’s shocking record in office speaks for itself. It has mismanaged the workforce, finances and all the while has stripped away local services and centralised them elsewhere.
“There are examples of this all over Scotland, from Dumfries and Galloway and the Lothians, to Tayside and the Highlands. People in these areas have had enough of the constant SNP health cuts which have caused the loss of much-loved and much-needed services.
“We need to rural-proof Scotland’s NHS to meet the changing and challenging nature of health and social care needs. That requires the SNP to ditch its Central Belt obsession and start to govern for the whole of Scotland.”
SNP MSP Sandra White, who sits on Holyrood’s Health Committee, said: “This ridiculous attack from the Tories would be a lot less laughable if they weren’t the party that set up the Beeching Review. It’s another example of how Tories think they can say any old rubbish and get away with it. In reality, the NHS in Scotland remains the best performing in the UK - well ahead of Tory run England and Labour run Wales.”