NICOLA Sturgeon is under growing pressure to sack her Health Secretary after it was claimed a "broken promise" to end bed blocking had cost taxpayers almost £400m.

The First Minister was also warned that unless she dismissed Shona Robison soon opposition parties would try to remove her through a no confidence vote in the autumn.

Both Labour and the LibDems demanded Ms Robison's scalp at First Minister’s Questions.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard reminded Ms Sturgeon that in February 2015 Mr Robison announced her intention to end delayed discharge in the NHS.

Ms Robison told the BBC: “I want over the course of this year to eradicate delayed discharge out of the system and I am absolutely determined to do that.”

Delayed discharge sees thousands of mainly elderly patients stuck in hospital despite being well enough to leave, with a lack of social care provision in the community a key factor.

However delayed discharge has only been reduced by 24 per cent, not eradicated.


Friday's cartoon from Steven Camley

Data published this week also showed a 2 per cent rise in the number of patients delayed in March, compared with the same month the previous year.

Labour said that, based on official cost figures of £233 per lost bed day, and 1.685m bed days lost since March 2015, the total cost of missing the target was £392m.

Mr Leonard said the issue, coupled with a host of other problems in the NHS, made Ms Robison's position untenable.

He said: “Shona Robison’s broken promises on delayed discharge has cost the health service over £392m.

“This week the government was forced to admit that it has not met its A&E waiting times target for eight consecutive months, hundreds of operations are being cancelled every single month, waiting times are up year on year, and our hardworking NHS staff are overstretched and undervalued.

“Patients deserve better than this. They deserve a Health Secretary who is up to the job.

Nicola Sturgeon should finally put patients before her party and accept that it is time for Shona Robison to go.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said delayed discharge numbers were “far too high”, as were mental health waits for young people, and consultant and nursing vacancies

“Will the First Minister just admit that her Government is failing patients and NHS staff?”

He accused Ms Sturgeon of shutting her eyes to the problem and warned Ms Sturgeon that MSPs could take action to remove Ms Robison if she did not.

“For goodness’ sake, will the First Minister take the summer to replace her health team, or will Parliament have to do it for her in the autumn?” he said.

Although the opposition parties have the numbers to pass a no confidence vote in Ms Robison, it is not clear that all parties would support such a move.

The Scottish Greens, in particular, , have shown little interest in removing Ms Robison, and in the autumn may be more interested in 2019-20 budget concessions.

Ms Sturgeon vehemently defended Ms Robison - her closest personal and political ally in the cabinet - saying the cut in delayed discharge had freed up the equivalent of 435 extra beds.

She accused Mr Leonard of being more interested in politics than patients, and reminded Mr Rennie the LibDems and Tories had started austerity cuts in the Coalition.

She said: “I would be the first to accept that tackling delayed discharge is challenging, but it is very clearly on a downward trend.”

“In Scotland we are making progress because of the investments that we have made, because of the integration of health and social care, and because we are increasing the number of staff working in our NHS. We will continue to focus on doing exactly that.”

She said almost half the delays took place in just four of Scotland’s 31 health and social care partnerships.

"I don't deny the challenges in our health service. Every health service across the UK, across Europe and across the world is facing these challenges.

"This is a government that is doing the hard work both in terms of reform and in terms of investment to meet those challenges, and we will continue to get on with that job."