SNP leadership race: Tories and Labour take aim at Humza Yousaf over NHS Scotland performance

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Douglas Ross asked: "Forget being SNP leader, why is Humza Yousaf still in government?"

Scotland’s Tory and Labour leaders have taken aim at Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership “frontrunner” Humza Yousaf over his performance as health secretary, asking if he is really up to the top job.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shocked Holyrood last week when she told a hastily arranged press conference she was resigning, saying it was the best move for the Scottish independence movement - but also that the “brutality” of politics has taken its toll on her.

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Three candidates so far have announced bids to become the SNP's next leader: Ash Regan, Kate Forbes, and Humza Yousaf. But Scotland’s Conservative and Labour leaders have taken aim at Yousaf - the current health secretary - during the First Minister’s questions on Thursday, over a damning audit into NHS Scotland’s performance.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Yousaf looked to be the frontrunner in the SNP leadership race, but during his time as health secretary the NHS had gotten worse. The Tories had uncovered new information on extremely long accident and emergency wait times, he said, including one patient in Ayrshire who had waited 60 hours to be seen - around two-and-a-half days.

Ross asked: “Is this useless health secretary the best SNP has to offer?” He also criticised Yousaf’s performance in previous roles.

“He was Transport Minister who drove without a licence,” he said. “He was justice secretary who did nothing while violent crime rose, got duped by a hoax video into calling on the police to investigate Rangers players. Forget being SNP leader, why is Humza Yousaf still in government?”

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Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has put his name forward in the race to be SNP’s new leader (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA). Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has put his name forward in the race to be SNP’s new leader (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA).
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has put his name forward in the race to be SNP’s new leader (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA).

Labour leader Anas Sarwar also took aim at Yousaf’s leadership of the NHS, after the new review. “When he took charge of the NHS, 84.1% of people were seen within the 62 day cancer standard. Now that is just 74.7%. More than one in four cancer patients are not being seen in time.”

The week Yousaf was appointed health secretary, 3,448 people waited more than four hours in A&E, he said. “This week that number is 7,572. It’s more than doubled.”

“This is the worst it’s ever been,” Sarwar said. “Does the First Minister really believe the man responsible for failing Scotland’s NHS should be responsible for our country?”

Sturgeon said it was up to her party to elect a new leader, and a new First Minister - not herself. But of Yousaf, she said: “He is the only health secretary anywhere in the UK that has managed to avoid a single day of strikes in the National Health Service over this period.”

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“Not withstanding the very significant challenges in accident and emergency, I can understand why the Conservatives are feeling uncomfortable - the Conservative government in England has not managed to avoid strikes in the National Health Service there,” she said.

Scotland’s A&Es remained the best performing anywhere in the UK, she said, but this was down to “the hard work of staff across our National Health Service each and every single day”.

And while the audit showed NHS Scotland faced significant issues, it also pointed out the pandemic continued to affect services, and Scotland was not alone in that, nor was it all within Government - or the health secretary’s - control, Sturgeon said.

“This is something that’s going to take time, to properly recover the NHS from the pandemic. That’s true in Scotland and in other countries,” she said. “But the focus of this Government will not waver, it never will waver, in supporting our National Health Service and all those who depend on it.”

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Sturgeon also hit back at Ross, and said in the eight years she had been First Minister, the people of Scotland had eight opportunities “to cast a verdict on her, her party, and her Government”. They had rejected the Conservatives every single time, she said.

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