HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil has come under fire for rebuffing calls for a review of the way the NHS is operating.
He dismissed a Labour demand yesterday for such a review as the "laziest, most vacuous motion" he had encountered in 15 years of the Scottish Parliament.
He came under fire for being in denial about the problems faced by the NHS, which have been highlighted by The Herald's Time for Action Campaign.
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Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "The NHS is facing a number of ongoing challenges that, if not addressed, will affect the delivery of high-quality care in the years ahead.
"Only by working with doctors and other healthcare professionals will a solution will be found."
Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: "There can be no doubt that Scotland's NHS is under immense pressure. What used to be known as winter pressures are now felt all year round, nurses are working for free on top of their rostered shifts so that demand can be met, and last month's NHS Scotland staff survey showed that less than half (45%) of nurses and midwives think that care of patients is their health board's top priority."
At Holyrood, Labour's Neil Findlay cited the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing as being among unions and professional bodies who believed the NHS in Scotland was close to breaking point.
He said: "The Cabinet Secretary has a choice - he can either ignore those informed voices or he acts now and instructs a wide-ranging review of the health and social care system."
He added: "As these voices have grown louder the Cabinet Secretary's response appears to be to stick his fingers deeper into his ears. This simply is not good enough.
"Our NHS needs to be staffed properly, it needs to be managed effectively and people need to have confidence in it. For the sake of our best-loved public service, I appeal to the Cabinet Secretary to initiate that review today."
But Mr Neil told him: "To call for a review is the cry of a man and a party with no policy, no plans, no ideas and absolutely no vision. The reality is the national health and social care system in Scotland today does clearly have pressures, but it isn't the basket case outlined by Mr Findlay, far from it."
He added: "What is required and what is demanded by the RCN and all these other organisations is action, including the 2020 action plan we have for the future of the NHS.
"We know the way forward. We also know the problems. We understand the problems and the challenges. And we know what needs to be done."
Mr Findlay, opening the Labour debate, said: "The reality is that the NHS in Scotland, the staff who work in it are under pressure like never before."
He highlighted "budget pressures" with "fewer staff being asked to do more for less" as some of the problems facing the NHS, along with bed blocking, waiting times increasing and a "skeleton weekend service" in hospitals.
Mr Findlay claimed junior doctors were being left to look after up to 100 beds while working up to 100 hours a week and said patients were being left in trolleys and sometimes being treated in cupboards.
This prompted Mr Neil into his furious counter-attack as he claimed Mr Findlay's speech contained inaccuracies.
Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume said that, while there were concerns over aspects of the NHS, including pressure on staff, his party did not support Labour calls for a review.
Conservative Jackson Carlaw called on both the SNP and Labour to stop "bragging and grandstanding" over their records on health and agree to slim down bureaucracy.
The one chink of light in the confrontational gloom was an offer from Mr Neil for other parties to participate in the 2020 Vision action plan looking at the NHS in decades to come, and this was accepted by opponents.
His deputy Michael Matheson also struck a less confrontational note, pointing to advances in the last decade.
He conceded there were challenges to be faced but said that in every area highlighted by Labour action was already being taken.
Ms Fyffe of the RCN added "Exchanging arguments about whether Scotland has more nurses now than it did at another point in time isn't going to do anything to help frontline nurses or standards of patient care.