The Scottish public is avoiding getting medical aid in an attempt to prevent further pressures on the NHS, a union has said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that more than four in ten Scottish adults (44%) said they had avoided using NHS services at least once in the last 12 months when they felt unwell or needed treatment, with 32% admitting they had done this on multiple occasions.
When asked why they chose not to seek care, over two-fifths (42%) said they had acted to avoid putting additional pressure on the NHS, while almost half (47%) said they thought they would have to wait too long.
RCN’s YouGov polling also highlighted concerns with the standard of care.
Of the 34% who were not confident that the care and treatment they received would be of a good standard, the majority (68%) attributed their concerns to there not being enough staff to provide sufficient care.
The findings come as the union’s NHS strike ballot enters its final week and ahead of a Scottish Labour Party debate in the Scottish Parliament on supporting the NHS this winter.
Members working for NHS Scotland have been urged by the RCN to vote in favour of strike action for the first time in its 106-year history.
It said the vote was due to years of “real terms pay cuts, under-investment and the pandemic response”, which have all left the nursing workforce “exhausted, demoralised and concerned” for the future of their careers.
The poll showed that 80% of Scottish adults support nurses being given a pay rise in line with inflation and 78% would sympathise with nursing staff if they were to go on strike.
RCN members rejected the Scottish Government’s 5% pay offer earlier this year.
The group admitted that while the latest offer from the government “is an improvement for the lowest paid, it is a further pay cut for registered nurses and fails to recognise their clinical skills and safety critical role”.
Colin Poolman, RCN Scotland director said: “Strike action is always a last resort.
“That it has come to this demonstrates just how concerned our members are for the safety of their patients, how undervalued and demoralised they are feeling and how frustrated they are at the Scottish government’s continued failure to listen and act.
“Our members have the support of the public who can see the devastating impact that nursing staff shortages are having on the care they and their families receive.
“Scottish Government must do better if Scotland is to have the nursing workforce it needs. It is not a decision to be taken lightly but I would urge members to vote in favour of strike action and to post back their ballot papers now.”
The RCN strike ballot continues until November 2 while elected members consider the government’s latest offer and the next steps.
Health and care secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Due to the accumulative impacts of the pandemic, we expect this winter to be one of the most difficult the NHS has faced with our £600m health and care plan looking to take on the challenges we know we face.
“We are recruiting 1,000 new NHS staff, including up to 750 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from overseas, and have increased flexibility for health boards to retain staff.
“While these challenges persist, people who are unwell should seek help. Across our health service pharmacists, the ambulance service, NHS 24, GPs and hospital staff are working hard to ensure that patients get the care they need.
“The record pay rise on the table would be the largest since devolution. Benefiting more than 160,000 employees it would mean NHS Scotland nurses would remain the best paid in the UK, and would give a Band 5 Staff Nurse a pay rise of up to 8.45%.”