Humza Yousaf believes he retains the confidence of staff working for NHS Scotland.
The health secretary is coming under increasing pressure amid dwindling faith in the Scottish Government’s handling of the NHS and the looming threat of industrial action.
Furthermore, the latest A&E waiting time figures released this week were once again the worst on record.
Despite the myriad challenges, Yousaf told STV News he suspects the current level of anger is a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s not to say there weren’t challenges before, but nothing to the scale of what we’ve seen with the global pandemic,” he said.
“There are challenges in our NHS, I completely accept that. There’s not another system in the world that gives compassionate care, free at the point of use.
“Of course, I get correspondence from people who feel their care could have been better – waited too long for an ambulance.
“But I also get the flipside of that. I get people writing to me to say how exceptional the care is they have received for themselves or a family member, so I think our staff are doing a brilliant job.
“What I would say to people is ‘look at what we have put on the table in terms of a pay offer for NHS Agenda for Change for staff – it’s gone way beyond what the UK Government, Welsh government, Northern Irish government have put on the table.”
Yousaf was speaking after a ScotPulse poll commissioned by STV News found that nearly half of adults (49%) are worried about getting ill this winter and 66% say the standard of care is getting worse.
Confidence in the Scottish Government’s handling of the health service is also falling, with 44% saying they have low-to-no confidence.
Some 55% of respondents said they would consider accessing private health care if they could afford it.
Asked whether he still had the confidence of NHS staff, Yousaf said: “Yes, I believe so and that is demonstrated by the fact that, in Scotland, staff are not going on strike – neither nurses nor ambulance drivers – but in other parts of the UK they’ll be going on strike later this month.
“(Strike action) is not off the table… they’re still considering it, but I believe the confidence is there.
“My relationship with the trade unions is very good. Don’t get me wrong, they challenge me. They’ll challenge robustly, but that conversation is a constructive one.”
Following the interview with STV News, BMA Scotland announced that junior doctors in Scotland planned to ballot for strike action.
The Royal College of Nursing is also balloting its members over an improved pay offer from the Scottish Government – with the prospect of strikes by nurses looming if the offer is rejected.
Yousaf said: “They want us to put our money where our mouth is and that’s why we’ve offered this significant pay deal – so I think they can be confident because we are putting that record pay deal on the table.
“I can’t sugarcoat it, you know this winter is going to be incredibly difficult.
“I would go as far as saying quite possibly the most difficult winter our NHS will ever face, but I promise you we’ll continue to invest and use the workforce and continue to invest in the National Health Service and social care.”
Yousaf was speaking after figures released earlier this week showed the number of hospital beds occupied by people ready to be discharged had reached a new record high.
An average of 1,898 beds were taken each day by people who were ready to leave hospital in October – the highest on record since current guidance was introduced in July 2016.
It is also an increase of 4% from September, where the daily average was 1,832, according to latest Public Health Scotland (PHS) statistics released on Tuesday.
Furthermore, the PHS figures show the number of patients being seen within target waiting times in Scotland’s emergency departments has hit a new low.
Just 61.9% of people attending A&E in the week up to November 27 were seen and subsequently admitted or discharged within four hours.
The Scottish Government aims for 95% of people to be seen within the four-hour, time limit.
The Scottish Conservatives have called for the health secretary to resign.
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the shadow health and social care secretary, said: “The NHS is buckling under the strain and frontline staff are being put under intolerable strain due to dire SNP workforce planning and mismanagement.
“We already know more people than ever before are paying to go private as a result, but for many others that’s not an option.
“The buck stops with Humza Yousaf. He should resign immediately, or Nicola Sturgeon must sack him for his never-ending series of failures.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “This is a damning indictment of the SNP’s stewardship of our NHS.
“It’s no wonder people are worried when we have the worst health secretary since devolution handling the biggest crisis in our NHS.
“Staff are working tirelessly to do right by patients, but services are at breaking point – and they have no confidence that Humza Yousaf is capable of taking action.
“If the SNP fail to act more lives will be lost. This winter we can only hope we don’t get sick.”
STV News is running special reports about the state of Scotland’s NHS across Wednesday and Thursday. The reports will air on the STV News at Six and will be available to view on the STV Player. The STV News website and social channels will also have comprehensive coverage.