FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced claims that thousands of NHS Scotland patient scans have been sent abroad for analysis as she attacked Westminster economic mismanagement's impact on spending. 

While Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross claimed that £500,000 had been spent sending almost 15,000 patient scans for analysis, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar focused on ambulance and A&E waiting times as the NHS prepares for busier winter months.

During FMQs, Sturgeon pointed to Westminster mismanagement of the economy and the subsequent impact on the Scottish Government’s finances, as Ross and Sarwar probed her on delayed discharges, GP services, and ambulance waiting times.

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It comes after interim Finance Secretary John Swinney reassigned £400 million of spending from the health budget to support a pay offer to staff, adding that there was “nowhere else to go” without further devastating impacts on services.

And, opposition MSPs rounded on state of the health service at FMQs, with Ross asking why scans had been sent “round the world”, claiming some had been sent as far as Australia.

The FM responded: “The NHS will always take steps to ensure the speediest possible diagnosis of patients and speedy as possible treatment of patients.”

She added that the figures represent a “tiny fraction” of scans processed overall, and that the NHS will always take steps to speed up test results.

Ross then continued to attack the FM over the number of radiologists, and claimed delayed discharge in the NHS has reached its “worst levels”.

Taking aim at former health secretary Shona Robison, now Social Justice Secretary, and a pledge she made to “eradicated delayed discharge” in the space of a year, Ross said it is now “worse than ever before”.

The FM hit back that when she held the role of health secretary, the Tories would come to the Chamber, “criticising this government for not using the independent sector more to try to tackle waiting times”.

She added: “It seems today Douglas Ross is doing the exact opposite. I'm not sure whether that's yet another flip flop from Douglas Ross, that's for him to determine".

The FM then noted the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the health service, and said the Scottish Government had increased radiology consultants and radiography staff but explained there is a global shortage.

Recruitment at an international level, the FM added, was not made easier by the “policies of Conservatives on Brexit and immigration”.

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Ross then relayed the story of a patient in Musselburgh who called a GP practice 120 times before being given treatment, an incident the FM said wasn’t acceptable.

She added: “I'll continue to take my job seriously to support the NHS but I will take no lessons from Conservatives who are making such a mess of the economy with such disastrous impacts for all of our public services.”

Labour’s Sarwar focused on ambulance waiting times, describing the plight of an 81-year-old woman who had to wait over 24 hours and still didn’t receive emergency assistance, forcing her husband to drive her. She was later diagnosed with a fractured pelvis.

The FM said that no one should wait that long, but explained the post-pandemic pressures facing the health service, to which Sarwar told her to “change the script”.

He then noted ambulances waiting for almost two hours outside of A&E departments to drop off patients and asked why it was “getting worse”.

The FM said: “I won't stop what this government is doing to support our national health service because the Government at the best of times, and these are not the best of times, is more complicated than simple sound bites or setting at the target, we have to do the work in order to achieve that.”

“We need to invest in the wider health service in order to improve performance for the ambulance service,” she added.

She also noted that Welsh FM Mark Drakeford had said publicly that Westminster Tory decisions were having an impact on the NHS in Wales.

She added: “I’m left wondering why Anas Sarwar instead of making sure that people understand the impact of Tory decisions, wants to pretend that that doesn’t exist.”

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Sarwar replied: “I'm never gonna shy away from attacking the Tories for their decisions, but this government must recognise their responsibility for the decisions they make and the impact it has.”

It comes as Scottish Tory MSP Stephen Kerr tried to attack the Scottish Government over the £20 million it has allocated to hold indyref2 in October 2023.

Asking about mental health provisions in Scottish Universities, Kerr said that support for student mental health, which costs £20m, should be taken from the constitution brief’s budget.

The FM replied: “I don't want to waste too much time giving a basic lesson in financial management to the Conservatives but money due to be allocated in a future financial year cannot be used to fund services in this financial year.

“In fact, of course, that will mean that investing a very small sum of money to give the people of Scotland an alternative to Westminster mismanagement, I think is a very good idea.”