Under-fire Health Secretary Michael Matheson “needs to go for the good of our NHS”, Conservative leader Douglas Ross said as he demanded the minister is sacked for claiming almost £11,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay iPad roaming charges.
Mr Matheson admitted earlier this month that his two teenage sons had contributed to the data charges by using his Holyrood-issued iPad as a hotspot so they could watch football while on a family holiday to Morocco last Christmas.
But the minister previously claimed there had been no personal use of the device during the trip, and Mr Ross accused the Health Secretary of “dishonesty”.
A poll published on Wednesday found 61% of Scots believe Mr Matheson should resign following the revelations.
Referring to those findings as he raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Mr Ross said the “vast majority of Scots believe he should stand down”.
He said people can see Mr Matheson is “not focused on the day job”, and added: “In the middle of an NHS crisis, the public need to trust the Health Secretary. They don’t.
“Nurses and doctors when they meet him, they need to know that he is honest. He’s not.
“The Health Secretary has lost the confidence of the country and he needs to go for the good of our NHS.”
He pressed Deputy First Minister Shona Robison on the matter as took questions in place of Humza Yousaf, who has travelled to Dubai for the Cop28 climate change summit.
With Ms Robison having suggested at the weekend that the size of Scotland’s public sector workforce needs to be reduced, Mr Ross suggested: “Shouldn’t that start with sacking Michael Matheson?”
In an emotional statement to MSPs earlier this month, Mr Matheson said he had not previously mentioned his sons’ involvement in racking up the charges because he wanted to protect them.
He said that after discovering how the bill was created, he paid the money back to the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood’s corporate body is now investigating the matter.
Ms Robison stressed the “appropriate thing now is to allow the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to look into this matter”.
But she added that “importantly”, Mr Matheson had accepted he “should have handled the situation better”.
She said he has “accepted responsibility and has rightly apologised in full”.
But Mr Ross hit back: “Of course Michael Matheson could have handled the situation better. He could have told the truth.
“He could have been honest, and we can’t park this issue to the Scottish Parliament investigation, because they are looking at the claim made for taxpayers to pay £11,000 of a bill. They’re not looking at the statements made which now seem to have been dishonest from Michael Matheson.”
While the Health Secretary has denied suggestions he had been watching football matches on the device, Mr Ross said: “He’s the MSP who once bragged about watching six football matches in a single weekend.
“But now he wants us to believe that when he was on holiday, he never watched the games, he never knew the football was on, and he never spoke to anyone about it.
“And when a giant bill came in he was completely clueless about it.”
Ms Robison said Mr Matheson had “reimbursed the Parliament in full for the costs incurred”.
She insisted he is “getting on with the job of being Health Secretary, ahead of what is expected to be a challenging winter for the health service”.
She also attacked the Tories, saying the recent autumn statement from the UK Government had “given no money whatsoever for public services for this Government, for this country, for next year”.
While the Scottish Government will receive an additional £545 million over the next two years, Ms Robison said there will be less than £11 million for NHS spending next year.
She added: “If Douglas Ross cared anything about the NHS he would be objecting to the fact that next year only £10.8 million has been given to the NHS from the UK Tory Government, less than £11 million.
“I think actions speak louder than words, I don’t think Douglas Ross and the Tories care about the NHS if they are prepared to support the Tory Government on that matter.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.