JEANE Freeman came under attack within minutes of being confirmed as Health Secretary yesterday, as Labour raised a previous briefing against a nurse.

Mr Freeman was accused last year of contributing to a smear against an audience member who challenged Nicola Sturgeon in a BBC TV general election debate.

Mr Freeman and SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC had appeared on the show to defend the party’s record, describing themselves as the ‘spin girls’.

Mr Cherry wrongly claimed nurse Claire Austin, who had attacked Ms Sturgeon over NHS pay and said she had been forced to use a foodbank, was the wife of a Tory councillor.

She later apologised for the remark, which had been circulating on social media.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who had been sitting next to the pair in the BBC’s spin room, said Ms Freeman had encouraged Ms Cherry to make the claim on air.

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “It is surprising that Nicola Sturgeon has appointed the person behind smearing a nurse who had the guts to challenge the First Minister during the election television debate.

“There are huge challenges in the health portfolio, especially in terms of funding and staffing. We need a Health Secretary that is going to support staff and stand-up for patients.”

The instant attack was a sign the opposition do not intend to be deflected by the reshuffle.

The other parties said the new faces would mean little if they were not accompanied by new ideas and new priorities from the government.

Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s now a year since Nicola Sturgeon promised a refresh of her government, so this reshuffle has been a long time coming.

“There may well have been a few ministerial changes.

“But this is an SNP government that is tired, completely out of ideas and all over the place on key issues. The people of Scotland are coming to the view that Nicola Sturgeon’s time is up.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said the government was “out of touch and out of ideas”.

She said: “On the day Nicola Sturgeon chose to shake up her government, she had to shelve her flagship Bill to reform the education system and oversaw the worst cancer waiting times on record.

“Meanwhile the economy secretary has been booted from his job to plan a referendum campaign, which says something about Keith Brown’s performance or the SNP’s priorities - or most likely both.

“This reshuffle is long overdue but the real change Scotland wants and needs won’t come from changing the odd Cabinet Secretary - it will come from changing the government.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said he admired the dedication of former ministers.

However he added: “Nevertheless, change was required in the leadership of our NHS.

“We have seen long waiting times, a shortage of nurses and doctors and mental health service reform that fails to match up to what is required. If the change in the ministerial team is not matched by a change of policy then our NHS will continue to decline.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Two years on from the Holyrood election in which the SNP lost their majority, the need for bold action from Scottish Ministers has never been greater.

“Green MSPs have been leading the change in this session of parliament, influencing budgets, the income tax system and social security legislation. We'll continue to bring constructive challenge to the new ministerial team."