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by Louise Wilson
30 May 2024
FMQs: John Swinney putting Michael Matheson ahead of NHS, says Anas Sarwar

Michael Matheson was raised by both Anas Sarwar and Douglas Ross at FMQs | Alamy

FMQs: John Swinney putting Michael Matheson ahead of NHS, says Anas Sarwar

John Swinney has been accused of prioritising the defence of shamed MSP Michael Matheson ahead of the NHS.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the first minister had spent the past week fighting for Michael Matheson when he should have been fighting for NHS patients.

He raised the issue of a constituent who was diagnosed with a brain tumour six months ago and is still waiting for treatment.

Swinney said there had been increased NHS activity in recent weeks which would help to bring down long waits, and he also offered to look into the specific case raised by Sarwar.

On Matheson, the first minister said he accepted the sanction as passed by parliament while also noting it had backed an amendment highlighting issues relating to the complaints process.

MSPs yesterday voted to suspend Matheson for 27 sitting days, the longest ever exclusion, but the SNP abstained on that vote.

But the motion was successfully amended by the party which states the process had been “open to bias and prejudice and the complaint being prejudged”.

Matheson, a former health secretary who stepped down in February amid the row over his £11,000 data roaming bill, will also not receive a salary for 54 days.

Sarwar accused Swinney of putting party interest before the country, adding that “patients should be the priority” and accusing the Scottish Government of “failing NHS staff and NHS patients every day”.

Swinney said he was “sorry” to any patient experiencing long waits for treatment before saying Sarwar’s comments about the NHS were “hollow”.

He said Labour’s promises not to raise income tax, National Insurance or VAT limited opportunities to invest in public services like the NHS, as well as pointing out comments from health spokesman Wes Streeting about “holding the door wide open for the private sector” to work with the health service.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross also raised the issue of Matheson, calling into question Swinney’s integrity for “supporting a man who has none”.

Swinney said Ross has “no credibility whatsoever” on the matter.

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