Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of forcing patients to seek private medical care due to the NHS “crisis” as she was challenged over a nine-year-old being left in “excruciating pain for seven months”.

The boy's mother has warned the Scottish Government that the long wait for treatment is "totally unacceptable".

The First Minister has insisted that the NHS remains a priority for her government, after being put under pressure by Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, the Labour leader pointed to previous clashes, accusing Ms Sturgeon of having “defended the indefensible” and having asked patients to “accept the unacceptable”.

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Mr Sarwar added: “After nearly 16 years in government, the performance of our NHS is the worst it's ever been.

“It needs a serious plan to fix it.

“So does the First Minister agree that continuity, mediocrity and incompetence won’t cut it?”

In response, Ms Sturgeon said that the “continued focus” for whoever replaces her in Bute House, will be the NHS.

She stressed that health services across the globe are continuing the face “challenges largely because of the pandemic”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Because of the recovery plan, because of the record investment that we are putting into the NHS, the record number of staff, we are now seeing progress in that recovery.”

But Mr Sarwar warned that “incompetence has serious consequences”.

He pointed to comments by peadiatric surgeon, Doctor Chris Adams, who Mr Sarwar said has claimed “patients are suffering because of a lack of staff”, adding that “he's had enough”.

Mr Sarwar said: “Crucially, he says it's not due to Covid.

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“One of Dr Adams’ patients is Harvey Martin. Harvey is nine years old. He suffers from neurofibromatosis, which is a genetic condition that causes tumours to grow on the nervous system.

“In August last year, he was told he needed urgent surgery within four weeks to correct a curve and his spine.

“Seven months on, he is still waiting. The curve is now harming his internal organs. And he is left in excruciating pain.

“A nine year old in excruciating pain for seven months.

“This is a serious consequences of incompetence.”

The Labour leader added: “His mum, Natalie, told me yesterday that she can't watch her child in pain any longer.

“She's looking at private options and will fundraise for Harvey's treatment.

“First Minister, why are children having to wait so long for urgent treatment? And why have families having to contemplate paying to relieve their child's pain?”

Harvey's mother said she was "absolutely appalled" by the situation.

Ms Martin added: “Harvey is in constant pain, struggling to sleep, and missing out on school and other activities.

“It’s totally unacceptable in this day and age that this is happening in Scotland.

“My son’s health condition has deteriorated with the risk of serious complications. We simply cannot wait any longer for treatment.”

Ms Sturgeon admitted that “no parent should contemplate that”.

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She said that she did not “know the details of Harvey's case”, but committed to “look into that and respond more fully”.

Ms Sturgeon stressed that “we have record numbers of staff in our NHS today”.

She added: “We have higher staffing per head than NHS England. We have higher numbers of nurses and midwives and doctors than in the health services and other parts of the UK.”

But Mr Sarwar insisted that the medical expert has explained the issue “is not due to Covid”, adding that “the first minister is hiding behind Covid”.

He added: “Incompetence has serious consequences. Incompetence might be funny in the SNP leadership debate but incompetence in government means people losing their lives right now across.

“Thousands of people are opting to pay for treatment because they can't wait for the NHS.

“Research by the BBC shows that one in five people say they or a family member had paid for medical treatment, one and five.

“This is a crisis 16 years in the making because of SNP mismanagement of our NHS and none of the candidates to replace Nicola Sturgeon are up to the job of fixing it because surely the people that created the problem can't be the ones to fix the problem.”

But Ms Sturgeon accused the Labour leader of wanting to “pretend that Covid didn't happen”.

She added: “Yes, there were pressures on our NHS before that but everybody understands the significant exacerbation of Covid on the NHS. That's the case in Scotland, Wales, England, and most other countries across Europe and the world.”

She added: “I've been in this post for more than eight years. I've taken the duty and the responsibility of this office seriously.

“I will continue to do that for the remaining days I'm in office. I know that whoever stands here after me it will also do that.”