Humza Yousaf admitted Scots face “tens of thousands” of cancelled appointments if plans for a strike among junior doctors goes ahead as planned next week.
The First Minister said medics would be offered “the biggest ever pay deal in the history of devolution” after an initial 14.5% over two years was rejected, with walkouts declared from July 12 to July 15.
It comes as the Scottish Government confirmed senior NHS staff will be given a 6% pay increase following negotiations with the Doctors and Dentists Pay Review Body.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the deal offered to junior medics was “not yet sufficient” to consider shelving strike action, but Yousaf said he was willing to get back round the negotiating table – despite the previous uplift being described as the “best and final” offer.
“I’m certainly prepared to put on the table the biggest uplift that junior doctors have ever seen in the history of devolution and I’m hoping we can do everything possible to avoid industrial action,” he told STV News.
“It’s not just about the quantum that’s important, of course it is. We’ll also look at how we can improve terms and conditions for junior doctors and potentially even look at whether or not we can do things over the course of more than one year, so can we do it over the course of a couple, or even a few years in relation to a possible deal?”
The pay deal for senior NHS staff, which will be backdated to April 1, 2023, will see a consultant at the bottom of the pay scale see a rise of £5,488 and £7,292 for those at the top.
It builds on the 4.5% pay uplift awarded in 2022, taking the total increase to 10.5% in two years.
Yousaf added he was “50/50” on whether a new agreement could be reached in time to prevent walkouts, adding the impact on the health service would be “very significant”.
“I’m afraid if there is a junior doctor strike, the impact of it will be very significant indeed,” he said.
“We’re talking about tens of thousands of cancellations of appointments and that’s something I don’t want to see.
“I believe junior doctors don’t want to see. So, hopefully we can get a deal done this week.”
Dr Chris Smith, chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctors committee, said junior medics had experienced “pay erosion” since 2008 and urged the Scottish Government to return to the table with a serious offer.
He added: “Junior doctors in Scotland have consistently and strongly made clear that the pay offers made so far by the Scottish Government are not yet sufficient to demonstrate a commitment to reverse the years of pay erosion we have suffered, which has seen pay reduced by 28.5% since 2008.
“No-one can seriously argue a junior doctor today is worth that much less than a counterpart 15 years ago. Indeed, our members rejected the Scottish Government’s latest offer decisively.
“Unless we act now and invest in the future of the workforce, we will go on losing doctors to places they are valued properly, compromising the care we can provide to the people of Scotland now and in the future.”