NHS Scotland strikes: Royal College of Nursing says strike action will have 'patient safety at its heart' as ballot result due

The Royal College of Nursing has claimed any strike action will have “patient safety at its heart” and maintain a cover similar to Christmas Day, ahead of expected strike ballot results today.

Last month, all NHS staff were offered a flat £2,205 pay rise, which on average amounts to a 7 per cent increase, following negotiations between the Scottish Government and trade unions.

However, the RCN, along with other trade unions representing NHS Scotland workers, are considering rejecting the offer and have balloted their members over strike action. The results of the RCN’s membership ballot is expected today – the results of which are tipped to approve strike action over the winter period.

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It comes with expectations also mounting that teachers across Scotland will similarly strike over pay. A strike ballot run by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the country’s largest teaching union – closed yesterday, with the result expected to be known as early as today.

The Royal College of Nursing has balloted all of its UK members for strike action for the first time in its 106-year history. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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The EIS will call a special meeting of its executive committee this week where plans that would force the closure of schools across Scotland as early as later this month could be confirmed.

Strikes by nurses over the winter would add critical pressure to Scotland’s delicate healthcare system, which is already struggling to deal with patients flowing in and out of hospitals, even before expected waves of coronavirus and influenza stretch healthcare services further.

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The RCN’s Industrial Action Handbook explains service provision similar to Christmas Day should be maintained, adding: “Any RCN industrial action will follow the life preserving care model.

“Life preserving services include: emergency intervention for the preservation of life or for the prevention of permanent disability; care required for therapeutic services without which life would be jeopardised or permanent disability would occur; urgent diagnostic procedures and assessment required to obtain information on potentially life-threatening conditions or conditions that could potentially lead to permanent disability.

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“To maintain these services in workplaces, service provision should be that supplied on Christmas Day.”

The RCN, which is calling for a pay increase that is 5 per cent above inflation for all of its members, has stressed although strike action “will cause disruption”, it will be conducted “safely and legally”.

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Colin Poolman, director of RCN Scotland, said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses. Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.

“Any strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses – we have their support in doing this. If nursing staff in Scotland do take strike action, it will be the first time in our 106-year history. Yes, it will cause disruption, but it will be carefully planned and carried out safely and legally.

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“Staffing levels will be carefully monitored, with patient safety at the heart of every decision.”

Last month, GMB Scotland’s Scottish Ambulance Service workers voted overwhelmingly to conduct strike action. The strikes, which could take place as the NHS struggles with record accident-and-emergency (A&E) waiting times and a looming influenza and coronavirus season mean the Scottish Government may turn to the UK Government’s Ministry of Defence for army assistance to plug staffing gaps.

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After the strike ballot result was announced, a spokesperson for GMB Scotland said “there would be some semblance of life and limb cover" during the strike action, but regardless, the strike would have “profound consequences for service delivery”.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf warned warned against “personality politics” as calls mounted for him to resign over historic waiting times at A&E and as the threat of widespread strikes loom.

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Opposition parties have either asked for Mr Yousaf to stand down or for him to be sacked by Nicola Sturgeon after new figures published yesterday showed 63.1 per cent of patients attending A&E in Scotland in the week up to October 30 were seen and subsequently admitted or discharged in four hours – the worst on record.

The Scottish Government’s target is for 95 per cent of those attending in A&E to be dealt with within four hours.

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The figures prompted an urgent question from Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton at Holyrood, who questioned if Mr Yousaf was the “best person to resolve this crisis”.

Mr Yousaf said: “While the opposition may want to concentrate on personalities – they can do that – my relentless focus is on the front line and those working in our NHS. What they deserve is not a game of personality politics or using the NHS as a political football.

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“What they deserve is, of course, Government, but every single one of us in opposition ensuring that we come forward with constructive solutions that are going to help our NHS at what is the most difficult time.”

The latest figures from Public Health Scotland showed in the week ending October 30, of the 26,052 patients who went to A&E, the four-hour target was missed for 9,617. There were 3,393 patients who were in A&E for eight hours or more, with 1,447 there for a minimum of 12 hours.

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“The performance in the week ending October 30 is clearly not where we want it to be,” Mr Yousaf said of the figures.

Addressing the threat of nursing strikes, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is a record pay rise on the table for NHS Scotland staff, which 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 five staff nurse a pay rise of up to 8.45 per cent.

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“For the lowest paid, this represents an above-inflation 11 percent pay rise, and it will ensure our nurses and other Agenda for Change staff remain the best paid in the UK. Health boards have business continuity plans in place to mitigate and respond to potential service disruption. We will continue to monitor and support boards across Scotland.”

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