SNP to cut NHS management by 25%
The number of senior NHS bosses in Scotland will be cut by a quarter in the next four years, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
She said the move would help fund policies such as SNP plans to abolish prescription charges by next April.
Ms Sturgeon told the SNP conference the cut was part of health department savings to free up £100m a year.
But she said frontline NHS spending would be protected, in the face of UK spending cuts.
In her speech, Nicola Sturgeon announced - alongside that move to scrap prescription charges - that she wants to reduce senior management numbers in the NHS by twenty five per cent over the next four years.
This could be serious money: £25m a year, £100m when added to other non-clinical efficiency savings.
But, again, it's long-term, it's nebulous.
It does not get people out on the streets - or divert voters to rival parties.
Handled carefully - and it will be - the strategy is to find savings which generate cash but don't frighten the voters or inspire populist campaigns of protest.
Addressing delegates in Perth, the deputy SNP leader also rallied party supporters, ahead of next May's Holyrood election.
Ms Sturgeon said that, with the costs of healthcare rising fast, the NHS was facing financial challenges and would have to continue to make tough efficiency savings, without compromising patient care.
She said: "Over the lifetime of the next parliament, health boards will be expected to cut the number of senior managers by 25%.
"Not because we don't value the work that managers do, but because when budgets are tight we must spend every penny that we possibly can directly on patient care.
"That saving, together with other non-clinical efficiency savings, will release more than £100m a year - money that will help to protect services, ensure the highest quality of patient care and protect the fundamental values of our NHS."
Ms Sturgeon went on to reaffirm her government's commitment to abolishing prescription charges next April, despite huge funding pressures ahead.
Over the last few years, the charges have been gradually cut from the previous level of almost £7, and the health secretary said the sick should not have to pay for "Labour's economic mess".
Ms Sturgeon also announced that the programme to test whether young athletes are at increased risk of sudden cardiac death will be extended for a further two years, through additional funding of £150,000.
And, ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's Spending Review next Wednesday, which will determine the level of Treasury funding for the Scottish budget, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP government was making a "clear commitment" to pass on the proceeds of any rise in NHS spending south of the border.
She said: "at a time when our revenue budget overall is facing significant cash cuts, there will be no revenue cash cuts in the budget for our NHS - instead, funding for our National Health Service will rise in line with the commitment we have given".
Turning to next year's Scottish Parliament election, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP had achieved much in its first term in office, including cutting crime to its lowest level in 32 years, putting 1,000 more police on the streets and helping 80,000 businesses through the recession by cutting or abolishing business rates.
Ms Sturgeon said SNP First Minister Alex Salmond was in "a different league" to the other parties, while launching an attack on Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray.
She said Glasgow's hosting of the Commonwealth Games in four years' time was an opportunity to "tell the world we are a proud and confident nation".
Ms Sturgeon went on: "Which makes it all the more important that, when that moment comes, we do not have a first minister who has built his career by talking Scotland down.
"Someone who is relentlessly negative. Someone who takes every opportunity to tell the world that Scotland is too small, too weak and too poor to be independent.
"The last thing - the very last thing - Scotland will need, when we have a chance to shine on the world stage, is Iain Gray as first minister."
Expressing her party's commitment to independence, Ms Sturgeon said that, just 200 days from the election, the SNP, "have what it takes to win".
"If we pull together as a country, we can and we will emerge stronger and more successful," she told delegates.
"That is our task. To unite Scotland in a common purpose. The purpose of making our country better. The purpose of making our country independent.
"Together we can and we will make Scotland better."