Humza Yousaf has been criticised for overseeing the crisis-hit NHS amid claims he is “going to fail upwards” if he becomes the next first minister.

The Health Secretary was branded Nicola Sturgeon’s “chosen successor” by Douglas Ross but the Tories have been accused of “sounding pretty scared” of Mr Yousaf.

The Health Secretary said it was "quite telling" that both the Conservatives and Labour took aim at him and "not focus on any of the other candidates" and denied he has a "competence problem".

At First Minister’s Questions, Douglas Ross attacked the SNP leadership candidate, who is also Nicola Sturgeon’s Health Secretary.

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Mr Ross pointed to reports that a small number of people have waited days to be treated at A&E departments.

Freedom of information responses show that a patient in NHS Ayrshire and Arran waited longer than 60 hours in A&E in December while two others faced a wait of longer than 50 hours.

Mr Ross claimed that “Humza Yousaf isn’t even up to the job he’s got at the moment.”

The First Minister stressed it was “for the members of my party to elect a new leader of the SNP”.

She said: “He is the only Health Secretary anywhere in the UK that has managed to avoid a single day of strikes in the National Health Service over this period.”

Ms Sturgeon admitted there are “very significant challenges in accident and emergency” but added that “Scotland’s accident and emergency departments remain the best performing anywhere in the UK”.

Read more: FMQs Recap : Nicola Sturgeon pressed over Humza Yousaf's NHS record

She added: “Yes we have significant work to do to reduce waiting times.

“We are focused, firstly, on the longest waits and we have seen significant progress in reducing the longest waits.”

Mr Ross told her that the comparison with the rest of the UK will be “little comfort for people who are waiting hours and days for treatment”.

He pointed to Mr Yousaf’s NHS recovery plan and labelled it “just a flimbsy pamphlet”.

Mr Ross said: “Humza Yousaf has made the crisis in Scotland’s health service much worse.

“First Minister, why should a Health Secretary who has failed our NHs now get to fail the whole of Scotland?”

The Tory leader added: “Eight years ago, a failed SNP health secretary became first minister. Now history looks like it’s repeating itself.

“Why would anybody risk Scotland’s future by giving a man with Humza Yousaf’s record more power?”

Mr Ross claimed Mr Yousaf was a “justice secretary who did nothing while violent crime rose” and said that he “damaged free speech with his hate crime act”.

The Tory leader added: “And now Humza Yousaf is the worst Health Secretary since devolution but it looks like he’s going to fail upwards.

“In any other line of work, Humza Yosuaf would have been sacked, not promoted. Forget SNP leader, why is he even still in Government?”

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But Ms Sturgeon claimed that the Conservatives were running scared of her potential replacement.

She said: “I don’t know about anybody else, but Douglas Ross is sounding pretty scared of Humza Yousaf, as I’m sure he will be scared of whoever is elected to succeed me as SNP leader.”

The First Minister pointed to her record in winning elections and told MSPs the public had “rejected the Conservatives and put their trust in me”.

She said: “I have every confidence that whoever succeeds me as leader of the SNP, will continue that record of success.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also took aim at the Health Secretary in his clash with the First Minister, saying he had “failed” and the NHS recovery plan drawn up by Mr Yousaf was “more about spin than substance”.

“As a result, patient outcomes are getting worse, staff are burnt out and the NHS is going backwards,” Mr Sarwar said.

The Labour leader insisted: “On every single measure, this Health Secretary is failing to get the NHS back on track.

“In fact, this is the worst it has ever been.

“So does the First Minister really believe that the man responsible for failing Scotland’s NHS should be responsible for our country?”

Ms Sturgeon stressed again the decision on who the new leader would be was “one for my party”.

But she sought to defend the Health Secretary’s record, saying: "Since Humza Yousaf became Health Secretary – and this is what Anas Sarwar fails to mention – there have been, I think, three further waves of a global pandemic that have affected health services all across the UK, Europe and the world, that’s not something that can just be ignored.”

Asked if he had “a competence problem” given the questions at FQMs about his NHS record, Mr Yousaf said: “No, no. I think it’s an issue that every single health secretary would face in terms of the health service. 

“The challenges that Scotland is facing on its health service are not unique to Scotland. 

“They are being faced right across the entire UK.

“What is of course different in Scotland is that we don’t have nurses and ambulance staff going in strike, which would have made the situation, particularly over the course of the winter, that much more difficult.”

Asked why he thought other parties wanted to talk about his record in particular, he added: “I think that’s quite telling actually. I think it’s quite telling that my opponents want to attack me… and not focus on any of the other candidates. 

“I think that probably tells you everything you need to know.”