HUMZA Yousaf has said he is willing to discuss “phasing in” a controversial shake-up of Scotland’s care services after complaints it was being rushed in the absence of key details.

The Health Secretary insisted the Scottish Government remained committed to delivering the National Care Service (NCS), but left open the possibility of a revised timetable.

“I'm open to discussions… about whether there is a way of potentially exploring how we phase the National Care Service,” he said.

In June, Mr Yousaf said the Government intended the NCS to be operational by the end of the current parliamentary term in spring 2026.

However today he said that while the Bill behind the NCS would proceed through Holyrood on its current timetable, he was willing to be flexible on other aspects.

It follows weeks of mounting criticism of the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood as a series of committees take evidence on its finances and implications on the ground.

The NCS is intended to create consistent care standards Scotland-wide, ending an alleged “postcode lottery”, and improve and harmonise pay for staff.

Nicola Sturgeon has said it will be the biggest public sector reform since the NHS in 1948.

Spending watchdog Audit Scotland said the financial memorandum accompanying the Bill “significantly understates” the cost at up to £1.3billlion because of outdated inflation figures. 

The project has also been criticised by local authorities as a power grab, while a senior SNP MSP has said it is a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”, arguing the few substandard care homes can be brought up to scratch without creating an entirely new system of care.

Health minister Kevin Stewart last week rejected calls to pause the NCS Bill, but was unclear about how many of the 75,000 council staff involved in adult and child care it might involve.

“We have not made any decisions about that,” he told Holyrood’s finance committee.

On BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show today, Mr Yousaf was asked if more money could be found for health workers’s pay to avoid strikes by putting the NCS “on hold”.

Mr Yousaf said rolling the NCS beyond 2026 into the next parliamentary term would not free up money for the current financial year, 2022/23, but did not rule it out entirely.

He then introduced the idea of changing the phasing in of the NCS.

He said: “We will talk to anybody who’s got concerns, including members of the opposition, including the likes of [care home industry body] Scottish Care. 

“If there are sensible ideas around how we phase the National Care Service, then I am up for that discussion and we will make a decision on that.

“Of course, we keep that under consideration. That is something I think we can and will engage with, whether it's opposition, whether it is care home providers.”

Asked if he was looking at “backing away” from the NCS at the moment, Mr Yousaf merely said the legislation to establish the service was on track.

He said: “We're not backing away from it. So the Bill will progress in the timetable that it's meant to.

“On top of that, the National Care Service, absolutely we are committed to that.

“What I’m  simply saying to you is, I'm open to discussions with the sector.

“I'm open to discussions, particularly [with] those that lived experience, about whether there is a way of potentially exploring how we phase the National Care Service.

“It’s not going to come up overnight. It's not going to be a light switch moment, where the National Care Service didn't exist and suddenly existed. It's going to have to be phased. 

“If there is a sensible discussion to be had around what that phasing looks like, the government will obviously engage in those discussions.”