NHS Scotland pay row: Winter strikes still likely despite 7% pay increase

NHS Scotland is still likely to be hit by winter strikes, after a new Scottish Government pay offer for workers was described as “deeply insulting”.

All NHS staff are being offered a flat £2,205 pay rise, which on average amounts to a 7 per cent increase, following negotiations between the Government and trade unions that lasted into the early hours of Friday morning.

However, some trade unions are considering rejecting the offer, and are balloting members for strike action, adding further pressure to Scotland’s already strained healthcare system.

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Strikes over the winter would add significant pressure to Scotland’s delicate healthcare system, which is struggling to deal with patients flowing in and out of hospitals.

NHS staff in protective gear working during the Covid pandemic. Picture: Lisa FergusonNHS staff in protective gear working during the Covid pandemic. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
NHS staff in protective gear working during the Covid pandemic. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Figures this week showed just 64.2 per cent of patients presenting at accident-and-emergency (A&E) departments are being seen within the Government’s target of four hours. Health chiefs are struggling to free up beds, with delays to discharges caused by low staffing levels in social care and a lack of available care homes, where many patients are discharged to.

All of this is happening ahead of the winter, when flu is expected to hit and further waves of coronavirus are likely, heaping further pressure on the NHS.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This improved pay offer, which is the largest of its kind since devolution, reflects their hard work and will go a long way to help them through the cost-of-living crisis.

“We are rightly focusing the biggest increases for those who are the lowest paid, as we know the cost crisis is impacting them disproportionately.”

The offer would mean the lowest paid seeing a rise of more than 11 per cent, with qualified nursing staff receiving up to 8.45 per cent. The UK’s inflation rate hit a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent in September, as food costs, in particular, have soared.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is already undertaking a strike ballot and elected members are considering whether to reject the offer this week.

RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said: “Under this proposal, registered nurses continue to face a significant real terms pay cut. This is even more stark with the news that inflation reached a 40-year high.

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“Many are making difficult decisions about how to heat their homes, feed their families and travel to work while carrying the burden of being unable to do the best for their patients due to severe staff shortages.

“This offer fails to recognise the clinical skill, expertise and leadership of registered nurses. It will do nothing to address the staffing crisis, the life-threatening delays we are seeing at emergency departments or the lengthy waiting lists for treatment across Scotland’s NHS.”

Despite the pay increase, the RCN is urging its members to vote in favour of strike action in the current postal ballot.

Alex MacKenzie, chair of the council of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “We welcome additional support for the lowest paid members of our NHS workforce, especially in a time of such high inflation.

“But it is simply a kick in the teeth to come back with an offer that is actually lower than the one already rejected for a substantial number of our members.”

The Royal College of Midwives described the offer as “deeply insulting”.

The union’s director for Scotland, Jaki Lambert, said: “This is not the substantially increased offer promised by the Scottish Government and it will be very, very disappointing news for midwives across the country.

“It is designed to make them and NHS staff think they are getting something, when in reality they are getting very little.

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“They and their colleagues will not be fooled by this tiny carrot that the Scottish Government is dangling in front of them.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “This is a very worrying development, which goes to show that this SNP Government does not understand the seriousness of the situation.

“As the RCN has said, Humza Yousaf is showing that he has no idea about the scale of the staffing crisis or about the impact that it will have on workers and the safety of patients.

“We are already facing a humanitarian crisis in our NHS this winter. For industrial action to proceed due to SNP incompetence would be a disaster.

“That’s why I am calling on this excuse for a health minister to take his finger from his ears, listen to frontline nurses and deliver fair pay.”

If agreed, the pay uplift, which amounts to £480 million, would benefit more than 160,000 employees, including nurses, paramedics, allied health professionals and healthcare support staff.



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