Nicola Sturgeon blasted for “putting second independence referendum before the NHS”

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The scathing attack comes after the Scottish Labour leader said it was a “disgrace” that more than 53,000 people had not been treated within the government’s 12-week target since 2012.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Ms Dugdale branded recent target failures as the “worst on record”.

“These aren’t just statistics,” she said. “It is pensioners in need of knee replacements having to wait for months. Or people needing eye surgery facing delay after delay.

“Each time I bring an individual case to this chamber, the First Minister promises to deal with it.

“It would take me centuries to work through each of these 53,000 cases.”

The MSP scolded Mrs Sturgeon once more for .

She said: “She likes to remind the chamber that she’s going to spend £500million more [on the NHS] over the lifetime of this parliament but what she didn’t tell us is that Audit Scotland told us last month that she has to cut £500m out of health budgets in this year alone through their health boards – that is a fact she cannot avoid.

“In fact, it sums up the priorities of this government – whilst Labour activists were out this weekend campaigning to protect the NHS, the SNP were talking about independence.

“Isn’t it the case that under the SNP the NHS is stuck in the waiting room while the first minister plots a second independence referendum?”

But insisted the NHS had improved since the SNP had taken office.

She told MSPs: “Waiting times are lower than when we took office, but we have work to do because of rising demand.

“We’ll continue to ensure our health service has the right level of investment and staff.

“When this government took office, there were only 85 per cent of patients treated within 18 weeks – not only have we reduced waiting times from 18 weeks to 12 weeks, a higher percentage of patients are now seen within that shorter waiting time.”