NICOLA Sturgeon has been warned about establishing a National Care Service “in name alone” as the First Minister told union leaders the policy will be a “top priority” if the SNP is returned to power.

Speaking at the STUC Congress, the First Minister insisted that the recovery from the pandemic “cannot simply involve turning the clock back to 2019”.

She added: “We must be bold and we must be ambitious and we must choose a recovery for the long term.

“If re-elected, this will be an SNP Government’s overriding mission and we will not waste any time in going about it.”

A key policy in the SNP’s manifesto is to draw up plans for a National Care Service following the pandemic, which contributed to a large proportion of deaths occurring in care homes.

The First Minister told STUC delegates that if re-elected, the SNP “will increase the frontline NHS spending by at least 20%” leading to “more than £2.5 billion of additional investment”.

But she stressed that “perhaps the most substantial reform we will make in the next term will be in our social care sector”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon pledges to set up National Care Service if SNP returned to power

Ms Sturgeon said: “One of the first acts of an SNP Government will be to take the first formal steps to create a National Care Service. This will make a real difference not just to those who receive care – but also to those who care for them with such dedication.

“The National Care Service will oversee the delivery of care, improve standards, ensure enhanced pay and conditions for workers and provide better support for unpaid carers.”

She added: “For the first time, it will allow us to introduce a national wage for care staff and enter into national pay bargaining.

“I know that a National Care Service is a key ask of the STUC in this election and if re-elected, it will be a top priority of the SNP in government.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, also addressing the STUC congress, pointed to “deep and entrenched inequality” he said existed before the pandemic hit.

He said: “We've got to build a fairer and more diverse system to support not just our economy but also our wider public services so that we can collectively focus on a national recovery and come through this crisis as a fairer and stronger nation.”

HeraldScotland: Scottish Labour leader Anas SarwarScottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

Mr Sarwar said he welcomed the SNP now planning to bring forward plans for a National Care Service but warned that the policy must produce what is expected.

He said: “I’m pleased that the Scottish Government is now talking about a National Care Service it’s got to be a National Care Service the way we consider it to be a National Care Service – not a National Care Service in name alone.”

The Labour leader said a National Care Serice must place dignity, quality of service and human rights as a priority rather than profits.

He added: “It means properly rewarding social care staff, it means making sure that there are no charges for people and no residential charges for people that require it on a care service and to make sure that every family gets the justice they deserve.

“Too many families felt let down through this pandemic and one of the biggest failures through this pandemic, I think, has been the response in our care homes.

READ MORE: Restoring NHS must be priority, not 'settling old scores', says Labour

“We’ve got to make sure it’s not just a National Care Service in name, it must be a National Care Service in terms of how it delivers services for people across the country – services based on quality of services, not on profit.”

STUC general secretary, Rozanne Foyer, said that “trade unions have shifted the conversation on social care, making sure it is now top of the political agenda”.

She added: “We will continue to shape the agenda in this election by focusing on the issues that matter to workers – pay, care and jobs.

“We know the economic recovery will be challenging, we need new ideas that will make a real difference to working people, will give them job security and a future.

“We expect the next government of Scotland to deliver urgent reform of care, take action on pay and to match the promise of a green recovery with the scale of investment we need. We will continue to demand that our elected representatives deliver for working people.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has also set out his blueprint for a new deal for adult social care.

The party is proposing to support the establishment of ‘national care service standards, scrap charges for care services delivered at homes and prioritise national pay bargaining.

HeraldScotland: Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie RennieScottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie

Mr Rennie said: “Scotland's social care sector needs reform after the hell it has been through in the last year. Our reforms are bold and liberal and will attract many people who backed Ruth Davidson at the last election but are not attracted by the leadership of Douglas Ross and Boris Johnson.

"Liberal Democrats will support the establishment of national care service standards, with the funding put in place to meet those standards. We will prioritise the establishment of national pay bargaining so that care workers get proper recognition, fair pay and better careers as soon as possible.

"By contrast the Conservatives are backing the SNPs plans to centralise the social care sector, a move that risks repeating the expensive mistakes of the centralisation of Police Scotland. "I want Scotland to come together behind a positive programme that puts recovery first, not another set of bungled reforms."