Anas Sarwar has said the NHS is getting “worse, not better” under the SNP, as he attacked the Scottish Government over the number of patients dying while on waiting lists.
In response, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said the Government is continuing to invest in the health service, which she said is facing challenges not unique to Scotland.
Ms Robison was standing in for Humza Yousaf at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday while he attends Cop28 in Dubai.
Scottish Labour leader Mr Sarwar asked Ms Robison how many people died while on an NHS waiting list last year.
Ms Robison said the figures around waiting times are “challenging”, adding: “Long waits are regrettable, we have seen a significant reduction in the longest waits since those targets were announced.
“We’ve also seen some improvements in diagnostic waiting times.”
She said NHS activity has increased and £1 billion is being invested in the health service’s recovery from the pandemic.
Mr Sarwar branded Ms Robison’s answer “pathetic”, and said “the Government’s head is absolutely in the sand”.
He said freedom of information requests by his party show 24,567 people died while on an NHS waiting list in the last year.
Mr Sarwar said: “Two years ago, Humza Yousaf launched an NHS recovery plan that has failed.
“Things have got worse, not better.
“But rather than having a Government that’s focusing on these problems, we have a First Minister and Health Secretary going from crisis to crisis.”
Ms Robison insisted the Government is focused on the NHS, and said any deaths are a matter of deep regret.
But she added: “These issues and challenges are not unique to the Scottish health service.
“Every health system is under the same amount of challenge.”
She said the Welsh health minister has also spoken of financial pressures and increasing demand.
She also went on to criticise Labour’s UK shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting.
Ms Robison claimed Mr Streeting wants to “open the door to the private sector to come into the NHS”.
She added: “We’ll continue to make sure that funding goes to the front line and not follow Tory spending plans.”