Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called on the UK Government to provide “substantial extra funding” for the NHS by forgoing future tax cuts.
With the NHS approaching its 70th anniversary, she said it needed “extra funding above and beyond the increases of recent years”.
The Tory warned the NHS was “reaching a tipping point”, with costs rising and the country facing the challenge of how to deal with an increasingly elderly population.
“I very much support the proposal for substantial extra funding across the whole of the UK to put the NHS on a firm and solid footing for the long term,” she said.
Answering the question of where the cash should come from, Ms Davidson suggested ministers should not introduce any more tax cuts “beyond those already promised”.
Giving a Policy Scotland lecture at Glasgow University, she stated: “The UK government has a choice to make.
“And, if that choice is between extra spending on the NHS or introducing further tax breaks beyond those already promised, I choose the NHS.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hit out, accusing the Tory of “empty words” on NHS funding.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “And yet when @scotgov made progressive tax changes to help deliver more money for the NHS, the Tories opposed tooth and nail. Their actions speak louder than their empty words.”
Ms Davidson, who is expecting her first child with fiancee Jen Wilson, however insisted the issue of the NHS was “pretty personal for me”.
She told the audience: “At five years old, the NHS first saved my life, then saved my legs, after I was run over by a truck outside my house.
“They put me back together again a few years later when I managed to break my back.
“My sister is an NHS doctor. And, as you may have heard, I’ll be requiring the services of my local maternity hospital in the months ahead.”
In a wide-ranging speech, she also set out how the Tories could attract the support of more young voters – saying that with this group they are “simply losing the argument”.
She said: “The answer is categorically not for Conservatives to don hoodies and caps and pretend to be down with the kids.
“The answer is to tackle the actual issues that the younger generation are facing. And top of the list here is housing.”
The Scottish Conservative leader said she had only managed to get on the property ladder last year, and with more and more professionals in their 30s now forced to rent rather than buy, she said: “Forgive me for stating the bleeding obvious, but the best way to sort this is to build more homes.”
While admitting there was a “lot to work through” to address the UK’s housing problems, she said: “Tackle that and we can genuinely say that we are sticking by a key part of our social contract, that the next generation will have more opportunities than the last.”
She also used the speech to urge her party to review its pledge to reduce net migration to the UK to under 100,000 a year.
Ms Davidson said: “I have said this before but I will repeat it tonight: I see neither the sense nor the need to stick to an immigration figure devised nearly a decade ago, which has never been met and does not fit the requirements of the country.
“Setting an immigration target reduced to the tens of thousands is one thing when unemployment is running over 8%.
“Refusing to review it when the country nears full employment and sectors are reporting skills shortages is quite another.”
“The Tories have presided over nearly a decade of stagnating economic growth and declining living standards while simultaneously eroding hard-won workers and trade union rights.
“Ruth Davidson’s dogmatic support for a dangerous and damaging Brexit will only pile further economic misery on Scotland and the whole of the UK.”
SNP MSP Gillian Martin said: “Ruth Davidson ironically makes a very strong case for how the UK is simply not working for Scotland, whether it comes to their damaging approach to Brexit, immigration, or austerity, the UK Government are actively harming jobs, public services and living standards in Scotland.
“And while Ms Davidson is absolutely right when she says that the NHS has coped ‘brilliantly’ with the challenges of the last decade, her calls for more funding have no credibility given that just a few months ago she was demanding tax cuts for the rich that would have cost the health service in Scotland £550 million.”