Anas Sarwar has insisted the NHS “will never be sold off to private firms” by a Labour government.

In a speech in Edinburgh on Wednesday, the party boss rejected SNP claims his colleagues in Westminster would open the health service up to more commericial partnerships.

Despite being devolved, the future of the NHS has become a key battleground in the General Election, with both the Scottish Government’s track record and Labour proposals coming under scrutiny.

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Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary has said he would “go further than New Labour ever did” when it comes to working with the private sector in England and Wales.

He has previously said Labour would use independent hospitals to get people seen quicker.

Mr Sarwar said: “The Labour Party will always defend the NHS. It’s in my DNA, but it’s also in the Labour Party’s DNA.

“We created the NHS, we saved it in 1997, and we will save the NHS again.”

He pointed to long A&E waits and more than 840,000 people waiting for a test or procedure.

The NHS was, he said, “on its knees”.

He added: “The damage inflicted on our NHS by the SNP is an absolute scandal. SNP first minister after SNP first minister, SNP health secretary after SNP health secretary should hang their heads in shame for breaking something so precious to us all.”

He said the damage had created a “two-tier health service” where some patients are forced to access private healthcare for treatment.

Mr Sarwar added: “Let me make this crystal clear to the SNP: A Labour government in the UK, and in Scotland, will never, ever privatise the NHS. It is our baby.

“Stop the scaremongering and the lies. Stop insulting the intelligence of people across Scotland.”

“We will get out NHS back on its feet.”

After the speech, he was confronted by a 73-year-old Labour activist who had concerns about the role of the private sector.

He interrupted Mr Sarwar’s Q&A with journalists to say: “Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary in Keir Starmer’s cabinet, has repeatedly, time and time and time again, said a major plan for reforming the NHS is letting private health care into our NHS system.

“He has been unapologetic about that. He is unashamedly in favour of the privatisation of the NHS. I think it’s a disgrace.”

But Mr Sarwar replied: The words used by Wes Streeting, and I’ll quote them directly – ‘I would die in a ditch before allowing the NHS to be privatised’.

“What he was speaking of is some of the innovations in terms of the nutrients and machines of the future. So much of those innovations and investments are being done in the private sector.

“Let’s not make it about throwing out left or right divides in the Labour Party, or about individual politicians.

“Let’s make it about fixing the NHS. That’s my mission – that’s the Labour Party mission.”

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Immediately before Mr Sarwar left the stage, the Labour member replied: “But how can you invest in the NHS by handing over millions and billions in private care?”

Earlier, in response to journalists, Mr Sarwar said his party will look to use additional money made from clamping down on non-domicled tax loopholes to incentivise staff working in the private health sector to commit to the NHS.

He said: “We’re not ruling out using capacity but our preference is to invest in creating the capacity in the NHS.”

In his speech, he also said: “A Labour government in the UK, and in Scotland, will never, ever privatise the NHS.”