SCOTLAND’S struggling health services cannot improve without tax increases for higher earners, the Health Secretary has said, as he claimed emergency departments will start to recover after winter.

His comments came as the convener of Holyrood’s Health Committee hit out at the Scottish Tories over their Budget criticism.

Gillian Martin said their response to “John Swinney’s penny-for-patient-care Budget measure proves yet again that they will always prioritise their ideological Unionism above adequately funding the NHS”.

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Health and social care services will be allocated £19 billion in the 2023/24 Budget to tackle the pressures facing the NHS, the highest ever settlement for the sector.

An additional £1bn will be made available to help fund health boards and pay deals.

The increase is being funded by an increase in tax for those on higher tax rates. Earners making more than £43,662 will be affected, with higher and top rates of income tax increasing by 1p to 42p and 47p respectively.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the tax rises were essential to support the NHS as it recovers from its most “challenging” period, saying higher earners would understand the role they had to play to improve the NHS.

“What they want to see is a commitment from the government to continue to invest in that health service, to improve,” Yousaf said.

“We cannot improve the health service without that additional funding and that’s why it’s so important.”

The National: Humza Yousaf

The funding would help the Scottish Government make inroads in surgery and mental health backlogs.

Yousaf (above) added: “I expect to see improvements in A&E performance as we get past the winter and the worst of it. I expect to see improvements right across the system and this additional investment will help with that.”

Latest figures from Public Health Scotland showed 63.4% of patients were seen in emergency departments within the four-hour target time in the week up to December 4 – despite the 95% target set by ministers.

Cancer treatment targets were at their lowest ever recorded percentage of patients starting treatment within the 62-day target, with the standard falling to 74.7%. The 31-day target of 95% for the most urgent patients was narrowly missed, at 94.3%.

Yousaf said that he understood the “anxieties” facing people around increased taxes despite a struggling health service.

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He said: “I do understand those anxieties, but I hope people will understand that we’re not raising taxes willy-nilly. It has to be done to invest, particularly our NHS and social care, which will get a £1bn boost in the next financial year.”

Addressing cancer performance times, Yousaf said treating people with the disease will be the “priority” amid increased funding.

The Tories tweeted in response to the Budget: “John Swinney’s tax hikes will widen the income tax gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK – driving away talent and jobs, while hitting 500,000 middle-earning Scots in the pocket.”

Martin said: “The Tories’ dispiriting yet predictable response to John Swinney’s penny-for-patient-care Budget measure proves yet again that they will always prioritise their ideological Unionism above adequately funding the NHS – regardless of the effects on patient care. While the Scottish Government announced modest tax rises on the better paid to be spent protecting our NHS, the Tories are effectively proposing a cut in NHS funding of at least £1bn.

“The changes the Scottish Government has made to income tax mean around £1bn-a-year extra is being raised than if we matched UK rates. Our progressive tax policies mean we can deliver record funding for the NHS, and substantially more than we receive from the UK Government for health spending.

“The Tories clearly don’t agree the NHS should be the priority. They believe Scotland should just fall into line with Westminster’s income tax policies no matter what the cost.

“Let’s not forget, that is exactly what they wanted John Swinney to do after Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss’s disastrous Budget just a few short months ago. If the Scottish Government had listened to them then we would be in an even more dire situation because of Westminster mismanagement of the economy.

“While the ideological Tories are prepared to sacrifice the NHS and the care of patients across Scotland in a misguided attempt to protect their failed Union, the SNP Scottish Government will continue to take the tough decisions that best protect the people of Scotland.”