Humza Yousaf has said that his “door is open” after members of a nursing union formally lodged a trade dispute with the Scottish Government over pay.
Concerns were raised in a letter sent to the health secretary by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Wednesday.
In the letter, RCN Scotland board chair Julie Lamberth wrote that members have “serious concerns regarding the recruitment and retention of the nursing workforce in Scotland and the impact this has on patient care”.
She also said that nursing pay has “not kept pace” with the cost of living and that the Scottish Government’s NHS pay offer “falls far short” of the RCN’s call for a “significant pay rise that applies equally across all bands”.
In May, the Scottish Government announced a pay deal that will see most health care workers receive a 4% rise.
Lamberth said: “The Scottish Government has relied on the good will of nursing staff for too long. For years, we have been responding to the challenge of delivering safe and effective patient care, in the face of increasing demands, staff shortages and low pay.
“These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Nursing staff are exhausted, with worrying numbers considering leaving the profession.
“Every patient needs and deserves the best quality of care, this can only be safely achieved with the right number of nursing staff with the right skills and expertise.”
She added: “Today’s action – writing to the cabinet secretary to lodge our trade dispute – is a formal expression of our members’ frustration and concern for patient safety. We are sending a clear message that the time to value nursing as a safety critical profession is now.”
Speaking to STV News, Yousaf said that the pay deal outlined by the Scottish Government is the “best single-year deal in devolution”.
“I’ll always listen to the RCN and I’ve met with the trade unions collectively in terms of those that we negotiate with,” he said.
“And when it comes to pay negotiations, we tend to go, and we have done this in the past, we tend to go with the majority and the majority, and those that represent the majority of health care workers and NHS staff, agreed to the 4% deal, which of course is the best single-year deal in devolution.
“And remember, it’s back-dated to December last year, so it’s an incredible 16-month deal, as I say, the best single-year deal in devolution.
“So, in one sense, I’m disappointed that the RCN has taken this step, but again, my door is very open to them, I’ll continue to engage with them.
“I’ve already engaged, as I say, with the trade unions, I’ll engage directly with the RCN and I would hope that they don’t feel the need to take any further action.”
Asked if the Scottish Government can afford to risk nurses going on strike, he said: “I would hope that it wouldn’t get to that and I think it’s important that the RCN and others do challenge governments to say, ‘look, it’s not just warm words or claps at the doorstep, but you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is’.
“And I think in that respect, we’ve stepped up to the plate. We’ve got, of course, the £500 thank-you payment which has gone into the bank accounts of nurses.
“Add to that, what will be a 4% pay deal which will go into the bank accounts we hope by August of this year, we’re already implementing it, it’s back-dated to December, it’s the best single-year deal in the history of devolution.
“It’s far more significant a pay deal than other parts of the UK. So, you know, I think we’re doing everything we possibly can, but if the RCN want a further discussion with me, I look forward to engaging with them one-to-one.”