Health Secretary Michael Matheson has led praise for the NHS on its 75th anniversary.

Matheson paid tribute to health service staff who, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, he said have delivered “extraordinary service”.

The NHS began on July 5, 1948, launched by then health secretary Aneurin Bevan.

After this point healthcare became free at the point of use, funded by the government.

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Matheson said: “We are fortunate beyond words to have an NHS free at the point of need for every single one of us.

“On this day, the 75th anniversary of our NHS, I cannot express enough how grateful I am to the people who have delivered this extraordinary service through all these years.

“Working in the NHS has not always been easy – particularly during the Covid pandemic, but along with their colleagues in social care, NHS staff worked in tremendously difficult circumstances to care for those who needed them. Together they saved countless lives and their contribution will never be forgotten.

“With the continued support of people across the country, and the unwavering dedication of NHS staff, I have no doubt the NHS will be celebrating many more anniversaries in the years to come.”

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Gillian Mackay of the Scottish Greens said healthcare should never become a “consumer service or commodity”.

She said: “It must remain free at the point of use, not just for this generation but for every generation.

“The creeping and gradual erosion of the NHS in England is one that should concern us all. Successive governments have allowed even more of it to slip into private hands.

“With independence the Scottish Greens would put the NHS right at the heart of a Scottish constitution and safeguard its future for decades to come.

“I wish every NHS worker and their families a happy day of celebration, and thank them for everything that they have done for us.”

SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford, who is an NHS breast cancer surgeon, also said independence is key to protecting the NHS.

She said: “As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NHS Scotland, it’s essential that we face up to the damage of catastrophic Westminster policies – and the risk that remaining under Westminster control could prevent our NHS surviving another 75 years.

“Thirteen years of Tory austerity cuts and underfunding have harmed all four national health services in the UK, and meant services were under pressure even before the unprecedented challenge of the Covid pandemic.

Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement have compounded the problems, with workforce shortages now the number one issue undermining all four healthcare systems.”

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - May 7: Scottish Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament after the rejection of a number of amendments he tabled during the Stage 3 (final stage) debate on the Age of Criminal

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said a plan is needed to bring down waiting times in Scotland’s NHS.

He said: “The NHS embodies an ideal: healthcare for everyone, no matter their background or circumstances.

“This 75-year anniversary is a milestone but it is also a personal opportunity for I and many others to thank staff for the incredible work they do right across our NHS.

“NHS workers know better than anyone that it is facing a raft of pressures which require more than just warm words and rounds of applause.

“While this SNP-Green Government fritter away time on all the wrong things, waiting lists spiral, the number of people stuck in hospital soars and staff are left to carry the ever-growing burden.”

While Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane – who also works as an NHS GP – said: “As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary, I want to pay tribute to the incredible staff working on the front line and continuing to go the extra mile to support patients.

“It is a true privilege to work for our health service. However, there is no doubt that it is currently facing some of the biggest challenges in its existence.

“Many of these pre-date the Covid pandemic, due to the SNP’s dire record on workforce planning and their mismanagement of frontline services during 16 years in office.”

He went on to urge Matheson to “rip up” the NHS recovery plan enacted by his predecessor – and current First Minister – Humza Yousaf, claiming it would be the “best birthday present” he could give the service.