Moves from infrastructure, investment and cities to take over from Nicola Sturgeon
Scotland's health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has swapped positions with infrastructure, investment and cities secretary Alex Neil (pictured) in a cabinet reshuffle within the Scottish National Party (SNP) government.
The move, which follows Jeremy Hunt's appointment to health secretary for England and Wales, is seen as allowing Sturgeon more freedom to take the lead in her other new position working with government strategy and constitution, where she will have responsibility for preparations towards Scotland's independence referendum.
Appointed to the position in 2007 following the SNP's election victory, she had been Scotland's longest serving health secretary since devolution in 1999 and was a popular figure during her time in the role.
“Although we had our differences she did listen to the views of the medical profession and her honest and forthright approach built a strong working relationship between government and the BMA [British Medical Association],” said BMA Scottish council chair Brian Keighley.
Keighley highlighted Sturgeon's efforts to protect the NHS from the commercial interests of private companies, and paid tribute to her 'sheer determination' to build support for minimum pricing for alcohol.
Sturgeon's work was also praised by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond: “She delivered record low waiting times and protected the NHS [in Scotland] from the creeping privatisation of the UK government.”
Commenting on Twitter, Sturgeon said: “It has been a privilege to have been Health Sec[retary] - my thanks to all the wonderful people I have worked with. We are so very lucky in our NHS.”
Sturgeon's replacement, Neil, had been infrastructure, investment and cities secretary since 2011, where Salmond said he “delivered the biggest infrastructure investment programme in Scotland's history against a backdrop of budget cuts from Westminster”.
He enters his new role at a 'difficult and interesting time', according to the BMA's Keighley, with ongoing discussions about the NHS pension scheme in Scotland as well as further economic issues to be resolved.
Keighley said: “There are escalating challenges for the Scottish NHS as it struggles to cope with growing financial pressures which will have an adverse impact on many patient services and create additional pressure on the already hard-pressed NHS workforce.”