HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil has been told he owes a leading doctor an apology in a row over hospital beds.

Concerns raised by Dr Neil Dewhurst, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, about the falling number of hospital beds, were dismissed by Mr Neil this week as untrue.

Dr Dewhurst has since produced official NHS figures that show 404 beds being cut from major Scottish hospitals between September 2011 and September 2013.

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Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour's health spokesman, said yesterday: "It's a disgrace that a Scottish minister would suggest that a respected member of the health community is untruthful. Alex Neil owes Neil Dewhurst an apology."

In interviews on Tuesday, Mr Neil talked about bed numbers increasing by more than 400 during the past year.

When questioned about the decrease shown by NHS figures, he responded: "The number of staffed beds varies throughout the year to reflect demand, although the most recent official statistics demonstrate there has been an increase of 140 beds in the year."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While the number varies throughout the year in line with demand, the latest official statistics show an increase of staffed hospital beds in the last year.

"Dr Dewhurst is a highly-respected clinician, not least by the Scottish Government. We've welcomed the opportunities to work closely with Dr Dewhurst, and we look forward to the continuing involvement and support of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in many aspects of our work."