NICOLA Sturgeon will today launch her manifesto for a fourth consecutive SNP term with a vow to increase spending on frontline health services by 20 per cent.

The First Minister will commit to an above-inflation £2.5billion rise in spending over the next five years to help the NHS recover and clear backlogs after the Covid pandemic.

However the sum is in line with NHS spending in the last five years, when it rose from £12.6bn in 2016/17 to just over £15bn in cash terms by the end of 2020/21.

The manifesto will also commit to £10bn of spending on NHS infrastructure over the next decade, as well as increased investment in mental health and the creation of a National Care Service.

Despite Boris Johnson's ruling it out, it will contain a promise a second independence referendum when the Covid crisis is over.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to say: “In this manifesto the SNP is setting out a serious programme for serious times. It is practical but unashamedly optimistic with a transformational ambition.

"At the heart of our programme is the National Health Service. If the SNP is re-elected we will use our experience to undertake a full-scale post-pandemic remobilisation of the NHS.

“Over the next Parliament, we will increase frontline NHS spending by at least 20 per cent.

"This will deliver an additional £2.5 billion for frontline health services - and is almost double what an inflation only increase would amount to.

"For patients, we’ll establish a fast track cancer diagnostic centre in every health board area.

"We’ll invest £10bn over the next decade to replace and refurbish health facilities across Scotland.

"And we will continue to invest in and reform mental health services, with a particular focus on child and adolescent services - an even greater priority given the impact of Covid on so many.

"So we will increase direct Scottish Government investment in mental health by at least 25%.

"And we will ensure every GP practice in the country has access to a dedicated mental wellbeing link worker, creating a network of 1,000 additional dedicated staff."

A National Care Service would “improve standards, ensure enhanced pay and conditions for workers and provide better support for unpaid carers", and involve a 25% rise in social care spend, or £800m, over the parliament.

"It will allow us to introduce a National Wage for care staff - to whom we owe so much - and enter into national pay bargaining for the sector for the first time.

"This will be a major change which requires major investment. So we will increase public investment in social care by 25% over the course of the parliament, delivering over £800 million of additional support for social care.

"And because we believe that social care, just like health care, should be provided on a truly universal basis, free at the point of use, we will also remove charges for non-residential care."

Among many giveaways, the Manifesto will also promise to get all of Scotland online by giving free devices, data and training to 300,000 households currently offline at a cost of £200m.

The plan will build on the existing Connecting Scotland programme launched to help 9,000 clinically vulnerable people access services and overcome loneliness during lockdown.

Further expansion should bring it to a total of 60,000 people by the end of this year

Finance and Digital Secretary Kate Forbes said: “Getting people online and connected has been vital in the pandemic and is essential in our recovery.”

The manifesto will also contain a £10m scheme to help companies to pilot a four-day working week, with an eye to making it a permanent shift under independence.

Employment law is controlled by Westminster, so the shorter-week policy would come in "as and when Scotland gains full control of employment rights through independence".

Advice Direct Scotland said the move had widespread public support and has been demonstrated to boost productivity and staff morale.

SNP business minister Jamie Hepburn said the pandemic had "changed the way we work almost overnight and has uprooted many of our working practices".

The Scottish Greens' manifesto, launched yesterday, said the party will "support the transition to a four-day week with no loss of pay".

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The promise of new funds for our NHS is to be welcomed and we agree that we need transformational change -  but after 14 years of SNP mismanagement we can have no faith in the SNP to deliver it.

“Under the SNP’s watch we have seen flagship hospitals opening years too late, delayed discharge persisting, a drugs death scandal, and their own Treatment Time Guarantee broken over 380,000 times.

“We must remember that as Health Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s actions saw a cumulative total of £1bn withheld from the NHS.

“The fact of the matter is that we simply cannot trust the very party that has run down our NHS so badly to oversee its recovery.

“Scottish Labour is committed to putting the NHS at the front and centre of our national recovery – our NHS recovery plan will kickstart cancer services, invest in mental health services and deliver a proper pay rise for NHS staff and social care workers.

“Only Scottish Labour has the vision to deliver an NHS recovery that ensures that we never again have to choose between treating a virus and treating cancer.”