Health Secretary Alex Neil last night pledged that Scotland would not follow UK government plans to impose a pay freeze on NHS staff.
A major rift opened up between London and Edinburgh when the SNP minister condemned Westminster proposals to halt pay rises as a “betrayal of the NHS”.
Reacting to a move by his UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt to cancel a 1 per cent rise for NHS employees, Neil promised to do all he can to protect the pay of the 140,000 people who work in the health service in Scotland.
In a submission to an independent pay review body, the UK Department of Health has argued that withholding the pay rise would enable the NHS to employ more people to achieve safe staffing levels.
Potentially, the move could have implications for Scottish NHS staff, because wages have traditionally been established by a UK-wide agreement to follow Agenda for Change – a programme of guidelines for pay and conditions.
Last night Neil revealed that the Scottish Government has made its own proposals to UK-wide pay review bodies, arguing that the pay rises should be maintained in Scotland. He also promised that he would use devolved powers over health to prevent the “ludicrous” freeze taking place north of the Border.
“This is nothing short of bad faith from Jeremy Hunt and a betrayal of the NHS,” Neil said.
“To steal the pay rise back from workers’ hands will destabilise the NHS across the UK and damage morale. The Scottish Government has no intention of following Jeremy Hunt and we will use our independence over the health service to block this move.
“But with UK-wide agreement to Agenda for Change, this damaging right-wing approach could hit Scottish services, and under the current funding settlement could drive down Scotland’s budget in the future.
“Jeremy Hunt’s aim is clear: to undermine the publicly owned NHS and break it up for further privatisation and American-style health insurance. My message to Hunt is unequivocal: Scotland rejects your politics, your attack on staff and your desire to destroy the real NHS.”
A Labour spokesman said: “This is a terrible bungle by the UK government to deny hard-working health workers the well-earned pay rise they deserve. They are right to be angry. Sadly, in Scotland we have a government which only gets angry about low pay when somebody else is responsible for it.”