Scotland’s National Health Service can only be “fully guaranteed” by independence, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Ms Sturgeon insisted reforms being made to the NHS in England posed a “very real risk” to the service north of the border.

She said people in Scotland need to vote for independence to “make sure Tory health policies can’t damage our health service in any way”.

In the run-up to the independence vote, which the Scottish government wants to hold in autumn 2014, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would have the “campaign of our lives”.

Leaving the Union with England, she argued, would not only protect the NHS but would also help Scotland tackle fuel poverty and even eradicate the “poverty and deprivation which still scars our nation”.

While she said the devolved set-up allows Scotland to make its own decisions about how to run the health service, she warned that changes at Westminster could pose a financial risk to the NHS north of the border.

Ms Sturgeon said an amendment being put forward to the Health Bill at Westminster would allow English hospitals to use 49 per cent of their beds and theatre time to treat private patients.

She insisted Scotland would “never go down that road” but warned that bringing in such a system south of the border could lead to the Scottish Government receiving reduced funding for health.

She said: “As hospitals in England get more of their money from private patients, I believe that we will see future UK governments freeze or reduce public funding for the NHS.

“They will still claim that NHS funding is protected but the reality will be that less of it will come from the public purse. As things stand, that would have a direct effect on Scotland’s Budget.”

Ms Sturgeon then told the SNP`s spring conference in Glasgow: “Devolution allows us to protect the principles of our NHS. But if want to make sure that Tory health policies can’t damage our health service in any way, then we need independence. Only independence can fully guarantee Scotland’s National Health Service.”