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New voice for health and well-being in Scottish cabinet

Scotland’s new cabinet secretary for health and well-being joins the NHS at a ‘difficult and interesting time’, according to BMA Scottish council chair Brian Keighley.

First minister Alex Salmond announced today that Alex Neil would replace Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon, who is also deputy first minister, will take lead responsibility for government strategy and the constitution, including preparations for the independence referendum. She also takes on the brief previously filled by Mr Neil, becoming cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities.

Dr Keighley said he was looking forward to working with Mr Neil.

He 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.

‘The thorny issue of changes to the NHS pension scheme in Scotland also remains to be resolved. Mr Neil comes into the NHS at a difficult and interesting time and we look forward to working with him to respond to these challenges.’

Tribute to Sturgeon

Mr Keighley paid tribute to Ms Sturgeon for her ‘hard work and commitment’ to the health service during her time as cabinet secretary.

He added: ‘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.’

In particular, he said the BMA was grateful for Ms Sturgeon’s efforts to protect NHS general practice from the commercial interests of private companies, and applauded her ‘sheer determination’ to build suport for minimum pricing for alcohol.

Mr Salmond also praised Ms Sturgeon saying that as health secretary, she had demonstrated what could be achieved when Scotland had responsibility for its own affairs.

‘She delivered record low waiting times and protected the NHS from the creeping privatisation of the UK government,’ he said.

‘Alex Neil has delivered the biggest infrastructure investment programme in Scotland’s history against a backdrop of budget cuts from Westminster. In taking forward Nicola Sturgeon’s substantial achievements as health secretary, he will ensure that Scotland’s health service continues to have the strongest possible leadership.’

Mr Neil was elected Airdrie and Shotts Scottish National Party MSP in 1999.