SCOTLAND’S new Health Secretary has denied he has been given the “worst” job in the Cabinet – and laid out how people should judge his performance in the role.

Michael Matheson, who took on one of the most powerful positions in the Scottish Government after First Minister Humza Yousaf’s reshuffle, further stressed his commitment to delivering a National Care Service – but said he had not been in the role long enough to outline what any changes to the currently proposals may look like.

Matheson was speaking during his first official visit as the Cabinet Secretary for Health, which as part of an expanded brief now also covers NHS recovery as well as social care.

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The National put it to Matheson that the new First Minister had said combating poverty levels would be the key point on which to judge his leadership, and asked on what measure his time as Health Secretary should be judged.

Matheson said that Yousaf's (below) key target and his own brief were closely linked.

“I think the First Minister setting out the whole issue about tackling inequality and reducing poverty is absolutely crucial to my job in the NHS. Many of the challenges that we face in the NHS, both at a primary care and an acute care level, are driven by social inequality.

“This is not about one part of government working in isolation from the other. The more we can do to reduce poverty, the better that will be in helping to reduce the risk in health inequalities and all of the consequent pressure that then places on our health service.

“I as a Health Secretary am very much committed to making sure that health plays its part in helping to reduce these inequalities because that will improve the lives of people in Scotland going forward.”

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Matheson added: “What you can judge me on during my time is that I am absolutely committed to making sure that I do everything possible to help to support our NHS and its recovery, and also in its reform. That’s what I’ll be judged on during my time in office.

“That involves taking forward a whole range of different policy actions, at a social care level, at a primary care level, at an acute care level, on a workforce planning level, on a capital investment level, all of that will play its part. But you can judge me during my time in office on where I’m showing the determination and the commitment to making sure that we support the NHS in its recovery and also to help to shape its reform for the future.”

In a media huddle, Matheson was asked if the array of challenges facing the NHS, the fledgling National Care Service Bill, and pressures around headline figures such as cancer treatment waiting times meant he had been given the “worst job in Scottish politics”.

The new Health Secretary denied that was the case, adding: “I’m delighted and honoured to be given the post of Health Secretary. I don’t underestimate the challenges that go with it, which are significant.”

He also said he believed Yousaf – his predecessor in the post – had done a good job, going on: "But it's important that we don't try to disguise the fact our NHS is going through a hugely challenging time.

“The pandemic has had a massive impact on the performance of our NHS and that's the case right across the UK. You can see it in the performance of health care systems across the world.

"It has been a really difficult and challenging period and we're seeing the recovery – and what I want to do is see that recovery is sustained and managed going forward."

Matheson insisted he was committed to the delivery of a National Care Service, a key plank of the SNP’s 2021 Holyrood election manifesto. He accepted there were numerous concerns raised about the bill in its current form, but declined to be drawn on how it may be changed.

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He told The National: “You’ll forgive me, I’ve only been in the job for a couple of days so in terms of the approach we’re going to take to the National Care Service is that I’m going to listen to the concerns that have been expressed.

“What I’ve said and what I’m very clear about is that the creation of a National Care Service is about making sure we see greater consistency, accountability, and level of service that’s being provided particularly within a social care setting.”

The National Care Service Bill in its current form has been roundly criticised by councils, trade unions, and private interests in the care service.

Cosla said in January that it “remains unclear how much money has been allocated for the Government’s structural reorganisation of care” but called for reform to be paused and funding diverted to plug gaps in local government budgets.