We have been able to protect the NHS - but we are constrained by the budget set by Westminster

THE future of our precious National Health Service is now firmly at the heart of the referendum campaign and that is exactly where it should be.

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As a former Scottish Health Secretary, I know just how valued and essential the NHS is to everyone in Scotland - so it is only right, as we look forward to our biggest opportunity ever as a country, that we consider carefully what our decision will mean for our most loved public service.

For me, there is no doubt at all that a Yes vote will enable us, in the future, to protect our NHS much better than will be the case if we vote No.

You may be wondering exactly why that is the case, given that the Scottish Parliament is already responsible for the running of the NHS.

The answer is simple. The Scottish Parliament currently has policy responsibility for the NHS.

That is important and it means we have been able to protect the NHS in Scotland from the fragmentation and privatisation that is being inflicted on it in England.

But - and it is a massive but - we do not control our own resources as a country and that means the amount of money we invest in the NHS is constrained by the budget that is set for us by Westminster.

When that budget is cut - as it has been in recent years - it becomes harder for the Scottish Government to give the NHS the priority it deserves.

So far, in spite of the cuts to our budget, we have managed to protect the revenue budget of the NHS.

But it has not been easy and, as we face even further budget cuts, it will get harder still to protect health without doing significant damage to other parts of the public sector.

That is the harsh reality when, instead of having full control over our own resources, we are reduced to divvying up a fixed budget decided by Westminster.

And make no mistake, there are further cuts to come if we continue to allow Westminster to make our decisions for us.

George Osborne has already warned of a further £25 billion of cuts.

And that is before we factor in the impact of NHS privatisation on England.

Everyone knows that the Tories' long-term plan in privatising the NHS is to cut public spending on health.

Labour in England knows that, as does Labour in Wales.

Tragically, though, Scottish Labour has been so assimilated by the Tories in the No campaign that it, alone, denies that reality.

So, the message is simple. Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

If you want the decisions about how our wealth is spent to be made in Scotland and not at Westminster, please vote Yes. That way, it will always be democratically elected Scottish Governments - and not Westminster - that decide the financial priority we give to the NHS.

That is, without doubt, the best way to protect our NHS from Tory cuts and privatisation.

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