Scottish health minister Susan Deacon has come under attack after it was discovered that she has agreed to transfer £44m from the health budget to help cut Glasgow city council's £1bn housing debt.

The discovery was made by Dundee East's Labour MSP, John McAllion, as he went through the Scottish Executive's published spending plans. Mr McAllion has written to the minister 'seeking some clarification on this issue'.

'I want to know the year in which the surplus was created. I will be asking which NHS trusts ran up the surplus and how much the surplus was in each case. I will also want to know when and why the decision was made to transfer this surplus, ' he said.

The latest embarassment echoes problems in June when Ms Deacon was forced to reverse a decision to give a£34m underspend from the health budget to the Forestry Commission.

Conservative health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon asked why the 'Executive is spending millions of pounds on historic monuments, forest enterprise and paying off Glasgow's housing debt'.

'There have to be serious questions asked about Susan Deacon's judgement, and whether she is fighting for the NHS within her own cabinet, ' Ms Scanlon said.

Nicola Sturgeon, the new SNP health spokeswoman, said: 'The Scottish NHS needs every penny it can get. . . it is an appalling decision to further erode NHS resources.'

At a time when trusts in Scotland are operating with debts of£22m, Ms Deacon is expected to come under considerable pressure to explain why her budget is not wholly being spent on health.

A Scottish Executive spokesman explained that the£44m was accumulated by the former trusts before devolution when they were able to build up cash resources.

When that system was scrapped the funds were frozen.

The money is now being transferred to the National Housing Partnership, responsible for transferring Glasgow's council houses to a private housing trust.

The Scottish Executive says that this was old money which would have been held by the Treasury if it wasn't transferred in this way.