HUMZA Yousaf has defended the £14 million spent on the National Care Service (NCS) amid looming junior doctor strikes and delays to the legislation. 

It comes after social care minister Maree Todd revealed the spending in a letter to MSPs on Holyrood’s Finance Committee on Wednesday. 

The First Minister was asked about the high costs at an energy conference in Glasgow, and why the cash isn’t being directed to raise wages for junior doctors, who have voted to go ahead with industrial action, though no date has been set.

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Yousaf told journalists that he is “committed” to creating the NCS, a policy he was tasked with during his previous role as health minister.

Todd’s correspondence with the Finance Committee revealed a total of £1,641,323 was spent in 2021-22, and a further £12,312,269 the following year – meaning spending on the plans amounted to £13,953,592 over two years.

This includes more than £2m on consultancy fees – £276,650 in 2021-22 and £1,929,536.33 in 2022-23.

Asked if he should be “tapping into” the cash allocated for the NCS as it’s not going to progress before the end of the current parliamentary term, the First Minister said: “No, I disagree with that – I think there will be progress in the National Care Service before the end of the parliamentary year.

The National: Todd has been tasked with overseeing the NCS plans in her new roleTodd has been tasked with overseeing the NCS plans in her new role (Image: ,PA)

“What's important is that we are delivering care – given that we're going to have an ageing demographic, we already have an ageing demographic – providing care that is not patchy or inconsistent across the country, and I'm absolutely committed to that,” Yousaf added.

Following the move by junior doctors in Scotland voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action last week, the First Minister was asked why he was “choosing” the NCS over paying for the wage rise.

“I think it's exceptionally unhelpful to categorise it in that way,” he said.

“I think what we're doing is investing in the National Care Service, it’s important for us to do so, so we have a consistency of care, and making sure we're engaging with junior doctors too.

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“They have an overwhelming mandate for industrial action.

“I've noticed they’ve not announced dates, which I'm very pleased [about] because we're engaged in meaningful discussions, as we have done with previous health trade unions.

“So those meaningful discussions will continue and I hope we avoid the need for industrial action.”

It comes after Todd said that the Scottish Government has no “magic wand” to increase wages for care workers.

She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We are absolutely working on improving pay and conditions, it is a crucial component in improving the situation going forward.

“I am determined to make improvements but I don’t have a magic wand.

“I need to go through the process of working out those difficult decisions, building support for spending money on improving pay and conditions as soon as I possibly can, because I see that as a key factor in improving the situation.”

Yousaf has already said his government will set out a timetable for increasing wages for adult social care workers to £12 an hour, saying that while ministers cannot “afford to do this immediately”, he wants to “send a signal to the sector that we are absolutely serious about improving pay, terms and conditions for those who care for our most vulnerable”.

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Todd said wages for social care workers have increased by 14% “over the last couple of years”.

While she acknowledged the “valuable job these people are doing”, the minister added: “There are competing interests and we have limited means of raising extra funds – we are not able to go over our budget in Scotland, so that does make for difficult decisions.”

She said the Government is “in the process of teasing out exactly what budget might be available to us, how soon we can see that and how soon we can realise that ambition” to increase wages.

The plans to establish an NCS for adult social care has prompted criticism from trade unions, opposition parties, and local authorities, who are responsible for providing the service.

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The NCS plans would see services consolidated into a single body, run by regional care boards and ultimately accountable to ministers.

Finance Committee members had set a deadline of Friday for the Scottish Government to provide more details on the cost of the NCS, but Todd has told them this will not be met.

In her letter to the MSPs, she said she did “not wish to confuse matters by providing multiple versions” of the financial memorandum.

With discussions on the NCS due to take place over the summer, Todd added these would enable ministers to “provide more detail or to narrow some of the cost ranges”.

She said that, as a result, it would be “more helpful” to wait for a single update to the financial memorandum – which she pledged to give to the committee at least four weeks before the first vote in Parliament on the legislation.