NHS tax plan from former Health Secretary Alex Neil

Alex Neil
Image caption Former Health Secretary Alex Neil said his proposals would be controversial

Former health secretary Alex Neil has said a separate "health tax" should be introduced in Scotland to pay for essential improvements to the NHS.

The proposal was one of the recommendations in a 10-point plan outlined by the SNP MSP.

Mr Neil said the plan for a tax specifically for the NHS was "deeply controversial but cannot be ignored".

The Scottish government said it had no plans to introduce a "hypothecated health tax."

Mr Neil said powers should be transferred to Holyrood to allow the Scottish government to introduce the levy.

'Deeply controversial'

The Scottish Conservatives said Mr Neil had "gone rogue" with a strategy that did not appear to have the backing of the SNP or the Scottish government.

Mr Neil served as health secretary from 2012 to 2014 before being moved in a cabinet reshuffle to the post of social justice secretary.

He resigned from government in May 2016 and now sits as a backbencher for Airdrie and Shotts.

The MSP said his discussion paper concentrated on the problems of health inequalities, preventing avoidable disease, the cost of new medicines and staffing.

Image caption Mr Neil said money raised by the extra tax would go straight to the NHS

He said: "The longer-term NHS issues cannot be swept under the carpet.

"The whole British system is in stress and while efficiency savings are needed, they will not be enough, which is why I float the idea of a separate health tax - deeply controversial but cannot be ignored."

The NHS already accounts for 40% of the Scottish government's current budget.

Mr Neil said this proportion could not be significantly increased without having an impact on other areas.

'His own way'

The Scottish Tories said it was another example of Mr Neil contradicting both SNP and Scottish government policy, after he admitted voting for the UK to leave the EU last year.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: "It appears Alex Neil is so dissatisfied with his own government's running of the NHS he deems it necessary to go his own way on the matter.

"SNP HQ will be furious that he is trying to sideline the health secretary on this one.

"People will wonder why on earth an SNP backbencher is taking it upon himself to do this."

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "This is a humiliating intervention for the SNP government. It is clear that Alex Neil does not have full confidence in SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison.

"The mismanagement of the NHS by the SNP is now accepted by one of its own backbenchers and a former health secretary."

'Consider all positive suggestions'

Other recommendations include a "long-term, detailed strategy and business plan", covering the period to 2030, measures to prevent ill-health and improved earlier detection of diseases such as cancer.

Mr Neil also advocated increasing the supply of new doctors and nurses by a "substantial number" as well as "urgent measures to address staff shortages in the NHS and social care".

A Scottish government spokesman said: "As this paper notes, NHS Scotland already performs favourably with similar services in the rest of the UK and other European countries.

"We are investing record amounts in the health service, and staff numbers are also at an all-time high.

"However, we want to do even more, and through our Health and Social Care Delivery plan we are already taking forward many of the suggestions in this paper - including a heavy focus on preventative actions such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol and on tackling wider health and social inequalities.

"Scotland is at the forefront of ‚Äémoves to improve the delivery and efficiency and effectiveness of services, including the integration of health and social care.

"We will do everything required to ensure Scotland continues to have world-class health care, and will consider all positive suggestions. However, we have no plans to introduce a hypothecated health tax."

The plan was published by the Options for Scotland think tank run by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson.