It goes without saying that it will always be possible to find fault with the NHS.

With 140,000 staff and dealing with a million hospital admissions a year, there will always be room for improvement somewhere.

The Health Secretary Alex Neil understandably feels that the NHS is holding up well, given the punishingly difficult financial circumstances of the past seven years and, in many ways, it is. The Scottish Government has listened to NHS staff and is aware of the problems emerging as a consequence of the ageing population.

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Work is ongoing on many fronts, from the National Dementia Strategy to the epic task of integrating health and social care, to make the service fit for purpose in the future.

It is understandable that the minister feels frustrated about criticisms of the NHS when he can point to several indicators that show it has improved, from nurse numbers to waiting times. Unfortunately, the fact that targets have been met does not alter the situation that some parts of the service are under great strain. That is why Mr Neil did not strike the right tone yesterday in a Scottish Parliament debate on the NHS called by Labour.

Mr Neil attacked Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay for the "vacuous" motion he put before parliament, but in doing so risked being seen as dismissing the concerns, not just of the opposition but also of those health and social care professionals whose knowledge and experiences have helped inform the debate. Surely the minister did not intend to suggest that the Royal College of Nursing Scotland is wrong to voice its concerns that pressures once confined to winter are now being felt year-round or that, regardless of whether nurse numbers have met their target, there are not enough to cope with the demand from growing numbers of elderly patients? But there is a danger he will have been perceived as having done so.

Will members of the public who heard the debate have been reassured by it? It seems unlikely. Patients who have been left on trolleys for hours in A&E or families who have seen their loved ones moved multiple times between hospital wards would prefer politicians to discuss problems in the system much less confrontationally.

The growing stress on the NHS is not merely a matter for Mr Neil. It is a matter for everyone in Scotland. Since the summer, The Herald has been running a campaign, NHS: Time for Action, calling for a review of capacity within the service and its ability to cope with the growing demands placed upon it.

We have called for a public debate about priorities in the NHS and the possibility of the need for extra funding, perhaps through extra taxation, to pay for the service in future.

We have highlighted signs of strain in the system and have had the backing of doctors, nurses, other NHS and social care professionals, dementia campaigners and patients' representatives. It is essential that the issue is discussed calmly and constructively, and that problems are properly acknowledged and addressed.