The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland has voted to conduct strike action over the coming winter for the first time in its 106-year history. The union’s mandate to organise strikes runs until early May 2023, six months after members finished voting, meaning the industrial action could be spread out across months.
The Scotsman understands services that would be affected by nursing staff going on strike would be those not deemed to fit the ‘life preserving care’ model, which means pre-planned surgery or outpatient services would have to be rescheduled.
But nursing staff working in services such as accident-and-emergency (A&E) departments and intensive care are not expected to be involved in the action. Nurses needed for urgent diagnostic procedures and monitoring of life-threatening conditions or conditions that could potentially lead to permanent disability are also expected to be held back from striking.
Opposition parties said the blame for the industrial action requested squarely on the Scottish Government, arguing the SNP “has played fast and loose with our NHS”.
Last month, theGovernment offered all NHS staff a flat £2,205 pay rise, which on average amounts to a 7 per cent increase, which has now been rejected by RCN members.
The RCN, which is calling for a pay increase that is 5 per cent above inflation for all of its members, has said although strike action “will cause disruption”, it will be conducted “safely and legally”.
Julie Lamberth, RCN Scotland board chair, said: “NHS pay is a political choice and for Scottish Government ministers to suggest to nursing staff that fair pay should come at the expense of key services is insulting both to our members and the people of Scotland, who recognise that these services are already understaffed and rely on the good will of nursing staff to keep going.
“The Scottish Government needs to face up to the reality that their failure to focus on workforce planning and to properly value those working in health and social care over the last decade is the root cause of the staffing crisis we face. The result of our strike ballot is a wake-up call that must not be ignored.”
Nurses in every service in Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted for action, and in Wales nurses will strike in all, but one health board area.
However, in England the turnout was too low in nearly half of NHS trusts for strike action to take place.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “While I am naturally disappointed that the RCN has rejected this record pay offer and is now considering taking industrial action, I respect the mandate they have been given.
“For the lowest paid, our pay offer represents an above-inflation 11 per cent pay rise, and it will ensure our nurses remain the best paid in the UK. I have always stressed that regular dialogue is essential to help avoid industrial action and I am committed to ongoing discussions with trade union partners.
“We have already had to reprofile £400m of health and social care funding to help with both inflationary costs and to meet pay demands. We have no more money for a further pay offer.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “With our NHS already on the brink of collapse and winter looming, I am deeply concerned for the health and welfare of patients over these strike days. It’s clear that lives could be on the line as a result of this action and the fault lies squarely at the feet of Humza Yousaf and the SNP.
“If the Health Secretary can’t get a grip of this situation, then Nicola Sturgeon must urgently intervene and ensure our nurses get the support they deserve in time to avert these dangerous strikes.”
Scottish Labour Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “For 15 years, the SNP Government has failed to tackle the staffing crisis and now patient safety is being compromised and lives are being lost as a result.
“The blame for this industrial action rests squarely with the SNP Government, who have failed our hardworking health workers, our patients and our NHS for a decade and a half.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It is absolutely unforgivable that the Scottish Government have now allowed the situation to escalate to strike action.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for a burnout prevention strategy and a staff assembly to calm the sharper edges of the crisis. These have been voted down or ignored by a pig-headed SNP/Green coalition, which would rather turn a blind eye.”
The RCN has pledged any strike action will have “patient safety at its heart” and nurses will maintain a “life and limb” cover similar to Christmas Day.
The RCN’s Industrial Action Handbook explains that service provision similar to Christmas Day should be maintained: “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.
“To maintain these services in workplaces, service provision should be that supplied on Christmas Day.”