Nurses have indicated they are willing to take industrial action in a dispute over pay.
Some 30% of Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members voted in a ballot, with almost 60% of them backing strikes and 90% willing to consider industrial action short of going on strike.
The union launched a formal dispute with the Scottish Government over pay in June after rejecting a deal put forward by ministers that gives NHS workers an average 4% rise.
Despite this the pay deal was implemented after being accepted by other unions.
RCN leaders carried out the indicative ballot of members working in the NHS in Scotland over October and November.
Although less than 30% of the union’s eligible members responded, leaders are considering their next moves and the union’s board will meet on Friday to consider whether to ballot nurses on industrial action.
Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland board said: “The thought of taking industrial action does not sit well with nursing staff.
“So the response from members to our indicative ballot demonstrates how difficult things are within the NHS. The Scottish Government must act now to protect patient safety and ensure we can retain and recruit the nursing workforce Scotland needs.”
In June, the professional body and trade union for nursing staff lodged a trade dispute with the Scottish Government and NHS employers over pay.
Graham Revie, chair of the RCN trade union committee, said: “The years of being under-valued have taken their toll and the pressure of the pandemic has left many considering their future in the profession.
“The link between low pay, staff shortages and patient safety is clear. We will now be considering our next steps in our campaigns to achieve staffing for safe and effective care and fair pay for nursing.”
A statutory industrial action ballot would be required before any action could take place.
Industrial action short of strike action could include activities such as starting and finishing shifts on time, taking all allocated breaks or refusing to work overtime.
Strike action would involve withdrawal of labour from the workplace.
Indicative ballots are also underway in England and Wales after RCN members there voted that the NHS pay awards for 2020/21 were unacceptable.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “The fact that nurses are set to strike should set alarm bells ringing among the SNP Government.
“Nurses have gone above and beyond during the pandemic and it is clear they are now past breaking point.”
He added that “nurses voting for strike action is endemic of the crisis engulfing our NHS” and urged health secretary Humza Yousaf to “urgently intervene”.
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie described the ballot result as “an historic moment that should shame the SNP”.
Baillie, the Scottish Labour deputy leader, said: “The overwhelming demand for action shows just how badly nurses have been treated.
“It is a disgrace that they have been pushed to this unprecedented measure in the aftermath of their heroic efforts during the pandemic.
“Nobody wants to strike, but applause doesn’t pay bills. The SNP must give nurses the fair deal they deserve so we can avoid the need for industrial action.”