THE opposition is gunning for Humza Yousaf’s scalp but refusing to address the Brexit elephant in the room, as Scotland’s NHS faces its most difficult winter on record.

The Health Secretary was asked if he was “out of his depth” at the First Minister’s press conference in Edinburgh on Monday, setting the tone for the comments which flooded in from Unionist parties following the statement on the NHS crisis.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie demanded he is sacked, the LibDem described Yousaf as “beleaguered” and the Tories called for him to scrap the Scottish Government’s plans and adopt theirs instead.

READ MORE: First Minister says Scotland's hospitals are 'almost completely full'

Defending her Health Secretary at the press conference, the FM intervened and spoke on Yousaf’s behalf, arguing that he is “doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances” and claimed he had the toughest job in government.

Yousaf was visibly exhausted at the conference and had dark circles under his eyes, while he flanked the FM along with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Graham Ellis and BSL interpreters.

The scene set out by the FM wasn’t pretty - the NHS is facing multiple mounting pressures and is on the brink.

Covid is still causing issues, there has been a rise of other diseases including Strep A, higher demand on emergency departments, and delayed discharges are causing waiting times to shoot up, leaving ambulances languishing at the doors of A&E departments across the country.

There are staffing issues, as both Unison and the Royal College of Nurses pointed out, there simply aren’t enough qualified healthcare workers to fill the posts needed. There are also nurses' strikes looming, with 82% of RCN members voting against the Scottish Government’s latest pay offer.

The National: Labour have called for Humza Yousaf to be sacked over the NHS crisisLabour have called for Humza Yousaf to be sacked over the NHS crisis (Image: PA)

With a fixed budget, talks have stalled, but a walk-out could bring a struggling NHS to its knees.

“We have no more money this year,” the FM said when she was asked about averting strike action and the impact on patients, and pointed out that NHS pressures are not unique to Scotland.

She added: “We are facing very, very severe staffing constraints, not just in the health service, but across the public services and across society generally right now, that have been significantly and there's no getting away from this, significantly exacerbated by the ending of freedom of movement as part of Brexit.

“So it is much harder to recruit staff into the National Health Service.”

The UK Government announced similar plans to the FM’s, with Downing Street announcing that they plan to “buy” additional care home beds to create at least 3000 new places to provide extra capacity.

READ MORE: SNP challenge Labour to join forces to stop Tories anti-strike law

But how effective can this be when the underlying issues, like the exodus of staff due to Brexit and years of austerity and cuts imposed on the health service, aren’t being tackled at the source?

The FM said that in a “relative sense” NHS Scotland is dealing better with pressures than elsewhere but added, “that is of less importance than the experience of patients in Scotland right now”.

Earlier in the week Baillie had insisted that the Army should be brought in as a sticking plaster for the winter months, but the calls were rejected by Yousaf who argued the armed forces were “not a panacea”.

This is another empty suggestion that holds no solution - Army reservists are already pulling shifts in health boards across the country.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish LibDem leader, tweeted his fury at Sturgeon and Yousaf addressing the press without speaking to MSPs first - despite the fact that they both mentioned on numerous occasions there would be a ministerial statement on the first day back from recess. 

With the Westminster Tories tiptoeing towards privatising the NHS and Labour’s Keir Starmer appearing to follow suit once again, it could be argued that the Scottish opposition party's time would be better spent trying to find constructive solutions rather than politicking over the most serious issue to face our health service in its history.