SNP prepared to vote on NHS issues in England to protect the service in Scotland in the event of a hung parliament

Nicola Sturgeon said the move was necessary as health spending in Scotland was linked to spending levels in England

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Scottish Nationalist MPs would be prepared to vote on matters relating to the NHS in England in the event of another hung parliament after the general election in May, the party's leader has said.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said her colleagues at Westminster would vote on issues specifically concerning the health service in England in order to protect funding to the NHS in Scotland.

She said the move was necessary as health spending in Scotland was linked to spending levels in England through the Barnett formula.

But her comments drew a furious response from senior Conservatives who accused the SNP leader of deliberately stoking tensions with English MPs in order to re-open the issue of Scottish independence after last year's referendum 'no' vote.

Traditionally SNP MPs at Westminster do not vote on English or Welsh only issues - although they reserve the right to do so if they affect Scotland's Barnett formula allocation.

But with the polls suggesting they could hold the balance of power after the election on May 7, the party has indicated that it could be prepared to support a minority Labour government.

In a BBC interview, Ms Sturgeon said they would be prepared to back measures to protect funding to the NHS in England or to reverse what she said had been the progressive privatisation of the health service under the Conservatives.

"We would be prepared to vote on matters of English health because that has a direct impact potentially on Scotland's budget. The Barnett formula determines how much our budget is," she said.

"If decisions are taken over time that reduce the public funding of the health service in England that has a direct knock-on effect to Scotland's budget and our ability to protect the funding of Scotland's health service.

"It is a self-interested position for us to take."

Conservative Defence Minister Anna Soubry angrily accused Ms Sturgeon of seeking to fuel demands from some English MPs to be given a greater say over English-only matters in order to undermine the Union.

"She puts our Union at risk again. I think she plays with dangerous stuff," Ms Soubry told BBC Radio 4's The World at One

"She is playing into the hands of those people who get much more irate than I do about 'English votes for English laws'. You're just fuelling those people who want to see this separation in our Parliament."

In contrast, Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan - whose party may have to rely on SNP votes in order to form a government - said that Scottish MPs were entitled to vote on all issues at Westminster.

"Scottish colleagues can vote on all issues in Parliament and it is really important that they do so," he told The World At One.

PA

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