"It is an unpalatable fact that people are dying in our hospitals because doctors and nurses are stretched beyond the limit. They are simply unable to give patients the attention to detail that is required and, as a result, unfortunately, people are dying needlessly." - DR MARTIN WATT
Story in full LABOUR'S efforts to win over health workers suffered an embarrassing setback last night after it was revealed that 67,000 nurses and midwives will not receive their promised full 2.5 per cent pay rise before polling day.
Andy Kerr, the health minister, was accused of blatant electioneering after he used a speech at a nursing conference in March to reverse his original decision to follow the UK government's lead and pay the money in two phases.
However, nurses' expectations that the rise would be included in this month's pay packets have been dashed, because the negotiations over rises for other NHS staff have not been completed.
Labour's failure to deliver the expected pay increase came on the day that a leading NHS consultant claimed that patients in Scottish hospitals were dying needlessly amid conditions resembling those in the Crimean War.
In a further blow to Labour ahead of next week's Holyrood election, Dr Martin Watt, a consultant in the accident and emergency department of Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire, said the health service was suffering from a shortage of beds and staff, while too much money was being pumped into administration.
Dr Watt's strong attack came after Mr Kerr was accused by opposition parties of breaking his promise to the nurses.
Announcing he was taking a different course from that being followed south of the Border, the minister said in March that the Scottish Executive would be meeting the recommendations of the pay review body, which rules on nurses' pay, "in full from 1 April".
Last night, nurses began to complain to party election candidates after they discovered that the extra money was not being paid to them this month, as they had anticipated.
Mr Kerr refused to comment, but a spokesman for the Executive said the reason for the delay was that negotiations with the 49,000 administration and ancillary staff had not finished.
He said the Executive had offered those staff 2.5 per cent and intended to pay both groups at the same time on a backdated basis, if the offer was agreed at a meeting in London today.
Margo MacDonald, who is standing for re-election as an independent MSP for the Lothians, was alerted to the problem by angry nurses.
She said: "If ever there was an inducement before the election, this was one. Andy Kerr has made a fair fist of the job of health minister, but a promise is a promise is a promise.
"This may make things difficult in terms of UK negotiations, but the nurses believed the minister and trusted him. I think he owes them."
Shona Robison, the health spokeswoman for the Scottish National Party, said: "Andy Kerr trumpeted the nurses' pay deal in his pre-election U-turn, but has not delivered it in the timescale he himself set out.
"Mr Kerr should have been upfront about the delay. His about-turn was welcome at the time, even though it was blatantly explained by the imminence of the Scottish Parliament election. The least he could have done was deliver it before the election."
Mr Kerr, who had a majority of 5,281 over the SNP at the last election, refused to comment on the situation.
But a Labour spokesman said: "This is exactly the same arrangement as was made last year for pay. The pay will be backdated from the beginning of April.
"This is just cheap politics from the opposition parties, who have no experience of running the NHS and some of whom would starve it of much-needed investment."
Theresa Fyffe, the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, said: "The implementation of pay awards is often delayed in the NHS because of the logistics involved in ensuring the changes are made correctly for the wide range of staff involved.
"However, all nursing staff will receive their full award in backdated pay and all NHS trade unions are urging employers to ensure that staff are paid as quickly as possible in Scotland."
The Executive spokesman said: "In order to maintain the integrated nature of the pay-award system, the Scottish Executive has gone on to make an offer to these other staff groups so that the NHS can then update all pay at the same time.
"To cover these other staff groups, we have offered 2.5 per cent from 1 April to staff representatives on the Pay Negotiating Council. We currently await their response.
"We will wait and see the outcome of [today's] meeting before we consider what the next step will be."
Labour's problems over the NHS were exacerbated by Dr Watt's attack.
The consultant said: "It is an unpalatable fact that people are dying in our hospitals because doctors and nurses are stretched beyond the limit.
"They are simply unable to give patients the attention to detail that is required and, as a result, unfortunately, people are dying needlessly."
Speaking at a press conference organised by the Scottish Voice/NHSFirst party, Dr Watt said he had decided to speak out after hearing of the apparent suicide of the Edinburgh-based Dr David Hughes, 37, a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. Dr Watt feared their might be more deaths among overworked doctors.
"I can no longer stand back and allow this disastrous state of affairs to continue unchallenged," he said. Dr Watt, who has been in the profession for 27 years, continued: "Patients are waiting too long for beds and this causes overcrowding in departments such as the A&E.
"The problem is that, while people coming into A&E might be seen before the four-hour waiting-time target, some will require further treatment. Then they are often left waiting in corridors for between 12 and 18 hours because there are no beds available on the wards. This is when the hospital looks like a scene from the Crimean War."
The A&E department at Dr Watt's own hospital is due to be downgraded, and he said he had been warned by his local NHS trust not to speak out.
He added: "Twenty years ago in Monklands, the A&E was dealing with 40,000 patients a year and had eight nurses on shift at any given time. Today, we have 65,000 patients and we have fewer than eight nurses on shift."
A spokesman for NHS Lanarkshire said: "We are very surprised and concerned by the comments made by Dr Watt. We have formal arrangements in place where any issues of patient or staff safety can be urgently addressed and would expect clinicians to use these formal routes to express such serious claims.
"The views expressed by Mr Watt are not shared by senior clinical colleagues. We would also like to reassure patients that our priority is to provide safe services and the highest standards of care within our hospitals.
"All of our staff work extremely hard to deliver first-class services and will continue to do so. Any comments made which undermine their efforts are both unfair and unhelpful."