Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed claims of any plans for privatising parts of Scotland’s health service.
It comes after documents were leaked which showed that NHS bosses had discussed a two-tier system for the NHS where wealthier patients would be asked to pay for treatment.
Minutes of a meeting involving NHS Scotland leadership also revealed talks were held over the possibility of curtailing some free prescriptions.
After the report emerged on Monday, the First Minister insisted that her government is “emphatically” against the idea of privatising any parts of the country’s health system.
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, also stated that the SNP would “never” consider charging anyone for NHS treatment.
At First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, the issue was raised by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.
He asked the SNP leader about whether the proposals were discussed at the meeting held back in September.
“On Monday, minutes obtained by the BBC revealed that NHS leaders in Scotland had held secret talks about privatising parts of the NHS,” Ross told MSPs.
“They discussed a two-tier health system where patients would have to pay for treatment and prescriptions.
“These plans are completely against the founding principles of our NHS.
“Now, the First Minister likes to scaremonger about NHS privatisation, but it seems like it’s already on the table in the SNP-run health service here in Scotland.”
He added: “The question to the First Minister on this important issue is; Is she denying these conversations took place? Is she denying that NHS chiefs discussed a two-tier system in Scotland’s NHS? Or is she saying the minutes of this meeting are wrong?”
Sturgeon insisted that NHS leaders “do not make government policy” as she categorically denied that any move to privatise parts of the health system would be considered by her government.
She responded: “Firstly, can I just say, it is… what is the best way to describe it? Bold, for a Conservative to come here and talk about privatisation of the National Health Service.
“The Conservatives, who have done more than any other party in these islands, and at times they’ve had stiff competition from Labour, but have done more than any other party in these islands to privatise the National Health Service.
“I’m intrigued though at Douglas Ross’ line of questioning. I did an interview on Monday addressing the comments and the minute is there.
“I wasn’t denying then that the conversation took place and I’m not denying now.
“It was a meeting of some leading NHS directors, as a point of fact, it wasn’t NHS board chief executives, but they were conversations, not to use another word that Douglas Ross used ‘plans’.”
The First Minister continued: “Let me let Douglas Ross into what shouldn’t be a secret, but he clearly doesn’t understand it – NHS leaders, however much respect I have for them and I have considerable respect for them, do not make government policy.
“The Government makes government policy and the founding principles of the National Health Service that this government has done more than any to protect and to enhance, are not, and as long as I am First Minister, never will be up for discussion.”
Ross pointed to health officials being told they had the “green light” to discuss reform of the service.
“I think it’s very bold for Nicola Sturgeon to stand up and compare Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom on privatisation when we know in Scotland, private treatment is up 84% since the start of the pandemic, compared to the rest of the United Kingdom that is half of that,” he said.
“Let’s look at what the actual document said – it said that health boards had the green light from the leadership to come up with and present their ideas for the reforms.
“The reports of the document said, and I quote, ‘areas which were previously not viable options are now possibilities’.
“So will the First Minister reveal what areas that she wouldn’t consider before are now on the table?
“And given that she has said that the ultimate decision would be with government ministers, who gave NHS chiefs the green light to consider these plans going forward?”
The First Minister again rebutted the claims made by the Scottish Conservative leader.
“Can you imagine Douglas Ross’ reaction if I tried to dictate to NHS leaders what they were and weren’t allowed to discuss in their meetings? I mean, let’s just imagine that for a second,” she said.
“In direct answer to his question, none of these plans… and they’re not plans… but none of these ideas that would have any impact on the founding principles of the National Health Service are being discussed or remotely considered by this government.
“That can’t be clearer, and certainly here in Scotland, it’s government that makes government policy.”