Scotland politics

Scottish NHS: Nicola Sturgeon defends health service record

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon said the challenges for the NHS in Scotland were similar to those faced by health systems elsewhere in the world

Nicola Sturgeon has defended her government's record on the NHS after a report highlighted the "significant financial challenges" facing it.

The Audit Scotland report said health boards would have to make "unprecedented" savings this year.

And it said NHS Scotland had failed to meet seven of its eight key waiting times targets.

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the report made it clear that the Scottish NHS was in crisis.

The Audit Scotland report dominated First Minister's Questions at Holyrood, with Ms Davidson claiming the Scottish government's management of the NHS was a "scandal".

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale described the report as a "grim diagnosis" of the challenges facing the health service.

The first minister admitted the NHS faced challenges, predominately from rising demand caused by an ageing population - but said these challenges were "not unique to Scotland" and were also facing health systems around the world.

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Media captionJames Neilson said a minimum 30 week wait to see a hospital consultant was "ridiculous"

Ms Sturgeon also said Scotland's performance "stands up well" to the rest of the UK, with health boards in Scotland meeting all of their financial targets, while the NHS in England had a £2.5bn deficit.

She added: "It is in light of these challenges, it is in light of that rising demand, that we are ensuring record levels of funding and will increase funding by more than inflation over this parliament.

"It is why we have ensured, to quote Audit Scotland, that staff levels are at the highest levels ever.

"It is why we are also ensuring reform of the health service, not just investment in it, integration of health and social care, shifting resources into social care and primary care, and expanding elective capacity for routine operations.

"So there is nothing unique about the challenges facing the health service in Scotland, but this government is focused on meeting these challenges and we will continue to be so."

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Image caption The Audit Scotland report found spending on the NHS had not kept pace with the increasing demands being placed on it

Audit Scotland's annual review of the financial performance of the health service found factors such as rising costs, staffing difficulties and ambitious savings targets were piling pressure on the NHS, with funding for the health service not keeping pace with the increasing demands on it.

Health boards will need to make "unprecedented savings" this year and there is a risk that some will not be able to balance their budgets, its report states.

Boards are also struggling to meet the majority of key national targets in areas such as waiting times and the major shift in care from hospitals to the community has not happened.

Ms Davidson told the Holyrood chamber that the report made clear the "failure of this government to get to grips with our NHS, and it is an outrage".

'Accept responsibility'

She added: "Health boards are having to make huge savings in order to break even, to take out loans to keep going and put off essential repairs to hospital buildings.

"Yet we learn today that because of this government's failure to manage staffing, there has been a 47% increase in agency nursing and midwifery staff, and, staggeringly, individual agency doctors are being paid over £400,000 each to provide cover for periods of less than a year, and all of that while patient care suffers from cuts and hospital buildings are left to crumble."

Kezia Dugdale pointed out that Ms Sturgeon had served as the country's health secretary for many years before becoming first minister, and called on her to accept "full responsibility for the problems".

She said: "Funding is not keeping pace with increasing demand and patient need, only one of eight key targets have been met, a workforce crisis that has been brewing for years is getting worse.

"These problems didn't appear overnight, it is the legacy of a decade of the SNP controlling our NHS."

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying she took full responsibility for what happened in the health service.

But she said that included responsibility for a budget £3bn higher than when the SNP took office, in addition to 11,000 more staff, lower waiting times and a commitment to increase health budget by £500 million more than inflation.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also joined the attack, branding the Audit Scotland report a "horror show".

He went on to ask Ms Sturgeon if the "condition of the NHS gives the first minister sleepless nights"?