Exclusive:Neil Gray: Medical unions tell new Scottish health secretary to move fast on junior doctor pay and NHS staffing issues after Michael Matheson quits
Top medics have warned health secretary Neil Gray he "does not have the luxury of time" to settle in to his new role, as they issued demands for urgent meetings over junior doctor pay deals, NHS recruitment and health board funding.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that “undoubtedly and worryingly, there remains much to do to put our health service on a sustainable footing and make all doctors feel truly valued”.
The warning comes in the wake of Michael Matheson’s resignation as health secretary following months of scrutiny over his parliamentary iPad bill of almost £11,000, prompting Mr Gray to be promoted as his replacement.
Dr Iain Kennedy, chair of BMA Scotland, said “pay negotiations to “build on the agreement to deliver pay restoration for junior doctors” would start shortly – a message expected to resonate with the Scottish Government in the wake of major disruption caused by strikes in England in recent months.
In England, more than 100,000 patients in England face having their NHS care cancelled this month after a fresh five-day walkout was announced on Monday.
Junior doctors in Scotland had separately voted in August last year to accept a "record" pay offer from the Scottish Government that included a 12.4 per cent pay increase for 2023/24.
But Dr Kennedy called on the Government “to deliver on commitments made, as well as beginning the process of contract reform”.
He said: “Our senior doctors equally need to feel properly valued, and their pay and working conditions fixed if we are to retain the doctors we need in this vital part of the workforce. GPs are equally struggling with poor morale and insufficient resources to meet demand.
“Michael Matheson delivered some encouraging messages around prioritising general practice with the possibility of direct investment into GP practices. These absolutely must be followed through on.”
Dr Kennedy added: “There is much that needs done, in particular to truly value doctors and make sure we prioritise recruiting and retaining the medical workforce we need to meet increasing demand.
“But as an absolute priority we would urge Mr Gray to listen to the professions on the front line of the NHS and the public and respond openly and honestly to the crisis we face.”
Dr Kennedy said “change brings uncertainty” and there would be a period “where Mr Gray needs to get to grips with his new portfolio”.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has already written to the new health secretary, outlining their priorities and to call for an urgent meeting with Mr Gray.
“We developed a good working relationship with Michael Matheson,” said Colin Poolman, director of RCN Scotland.
“Of course, the Scottish Government has made a decision to move him on and we will now and try and develop a relationship with Mr Gray. We’ve written to him around our areas of priority and we've asked for to meet with him.”
Mr Poolman said Mr Gray “needs to give us confirmation” the Agenda for Change Review will be implemented, and stressed the union wanted assurances from the new health secretary about the financial concerns of Scotland’s health boards.
He added: “Short-term decisions have been made in the past that have caused really difficult consequences for years, such as the SNP Government in 2012 cutting nursing places. We’re still living with those consequences.”
Mr Poolman said the new health secretary “does not have the luxury of time” and “needs to get up and running” as soon as possible to tackle his union’s concerns.
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