Scotland's cabinet secretary for health and well-being has announced the new executive government would take 'an assumption against centralisation of services'.

Nicola Sturgeon, who is also the deputy first minister in the new SNP minority government in Scotland, has already halted the closure of two accident and emergency units since taking up her post after the elections in May. She told delegates at the conference: 'At the heart of [our] approach will be a determination to provide services as locally as possible.'

'That's not to say there will never be occasions when it makes sense to concentrate services for the benefit of patients,' she said, but any centralisation plans would be 'subject to robust independent scrutiny'.

David Kerr, Rhodes professor of clinical pharmacology and cancer therapeutics at Oxford University, and one of the architects of Scotland's modernised health service, said the SNP's opposition to reconfiguration was 'emotional and irrational'.