The health secretary has warned strikes by nurses would be “catastrophic” for Scotland’s NHS, but said action could be averted if the UK Government agrees to help fund pay deals for staff.
Humza Yousaf said the results of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) ballot that saw thousands of medical workers back walkouts over a wage dispute were “harmful” heading into a brutal winter period.
Union members in every health board in Scotland backed industrial action, despite the Scottish Government saying it had offered a record pay rise.
The strikes, which also cover health boards in England and Wales, is the RCN’s first UK-wide industrial action since it was founded 106 years ago.
Yousaf said the impact on the health service would be hugely detrimental, but told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland they were not “inevitable” if the Westminster government exercised their “moral obligation” to boost funding.
“There is a route through this, strikes are not inevitable,” he told the programme.
“Given the UK Government are the architects of high inflation costs and this cost crisis, for me I think they have a moral obligation, quite frankly, to put their hand in their pocket and provide more money to the Scottish Government in order for us to be able to afford these record high pay deals.”
Yousaf said contingency plans “were in place” should strikes go ahead, but would be “catastrophic at this time more than any other time”.
No dates for action have been confirmed but it is expected to begin before the end of the year. The mandate to organise strikes runs until May 2023.
NHS Scotland bosses are also bracing for other medical workers including ambulance staff also taking action after they formally rejected their latest pay offer. Unite the union said its members have voted for strike action.
RCN members were offered an average increase of 7%, with lower paid workers getting 11% – despite inflation reaching a 40-year high of 12.6%.
RCN Scotland director Colin Pullman insisted nurses could not accept another real terms pay cut, telling the programme: “There’s been years of under-investment in nursing, over a decade of pay cuts in real terms. The current offer is a pay cut again.
“At the end of the day I absolutely understand this is going to be difficult, our members acknowledge that.
“But what we can’t have is another real terms pay cut for the nurses of Scotland.
“There’s never a good time to strike, we don’t want to strike, but our members have told us very loudly that enough is enough.
“There is one way to avert strikes and that is to go back to negotiations and for us to negotiate an improved offer.”