Pat Rafferty, the Scottish secretary of Unite, said yesterday that “one of the next big battles” the union was facing was “the fight to deliver a fair pay rise for NHS workers”, adding workers taking industrial action would not be “starved into submission”.
It comes as pressure mounts on Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf with Labour telling him today to act or his position will become “untenable”.
Figures published last week showed Scotland’s emergency departments reported their worst waiting times on record, with just 63.5 per cent of people being seen and subsequently admitted or discharged within four hours.
A freedom of information (FOI) request by the Tories, meanwhile, revealed that one patient at University Hospital Crosshouse in Ayrshire waited 84 hours and 10 minutes for treatment in January of this year.
Another industrial dispute would increase the pressure further even before the worst of the winter pressures begin.
Mr Rafferty, who was addressing Unite’s Scottish policy conference in Glasgow, told how thousands of union members across the country were currently in dispute with bosses of pay.
The union is currently preparing to ballot health workers in Scotland on industrial action after the five per cent pay increase offered by Mr Yousaf was rejected.
He said: “We are in the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, everyone is feeling the pinch.
“People can’t sleep at night, worrying about whether they can pay the bills as inflation and energy prices go through the roof. Parents wondering if they will be able to feed and clothe their kids. Pensioners trying to live off a miserly state pension that is nowhere near keeping pace with the cost of living.”
He insisted Unite was “giving our members every support we possibly can”.
He told the conference: “Every resource possible is being made available to support our members who are taking industrial action.”
University workers, Glasgow subway staff and workers at Marine Scotland are among those currently involved in disputes with their employers, Mr Rafferty said.
While he stressed that Unite had “delivered millions of pounds worth of rises across the public and private sector”, he added there was “much more to do”.
Mr Rafferty told the conference: “One of the next big battles we face is the fight to deliver a fair pay rise for NHS workers.
“By their thousands, our members have said they are prepared to take industrial action to get a better wage deal from the Scottish Government.
“Let me repeat, our NHS workers, and every worker, going into dispute with their employer will receive the full backing of this union.”
Scottish Labour today seeks to increase the pressure on Mr Yousaf, highlighting a “succession of key failures” it says have occurred during his tenure as Scotland’s Health Secretary.
The party has highlighted statistics showing “the worst weekly and monthly A&E waiting times recorded” in recent years, with thousands of patients waiting more than eight hours to receive emergency treatment on a weekly basis.
Labour said that from June 2021 to July 2022, delayed discharges from hospitals have resulted in more than 685,000 bed days being lost.
July of this year saw a daily average number of 1,806 beds occupied by someone who was ready to be discharged from hospital – the highest figure since the current guidance was introduced six years prior.
Elective surgery waiting lists have also been criticised, with more than 139,000 people in Scotland waiting for in-patient or day-case admission as of June 2022.
Scottish Labour health spokesman Jackie Baillie said: “Despite warning after warning, Humza Yousaf’s inaction is leading our NHS into a winter crisis like no other.
“After being in post for almost 500 days, Humza Yousaf has failed to get to grips with the increasing problems in our NHS.
“If action is not taken now, we risk a humanitarian crisis this winter with lives needlessly lost.”
Ms Baillie added: “Humza Yousaf is a record breaker, the worst A&E stats on record, the highest level of delayed discharge, the longest waiting lists, he’s broken all the records and patients and staff are the ones that suffer.
“If action is not taken now to avert a catastrophe in our NHS then Humza Yousaf’s position will be untenable.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government, said: “The Health Secretary is absolutely focused on ensuring Scotland’s NHS is as well-equipped as possible to tackle the huge challenges we face, which is why health spending and staffing levels have grown to record levels since 2007.
“Scotland currently has the highest overall percentage vaccination rates for first and second doses for those aged over 12 years of any UK nation, and figures showed this week the recovery on long waits for planned care is well underway.
“In common with health services across the UK and globally, A&E departments are working under significant pressure and the pandemic continues to affect services.
“And while Scotland’s A&E performance continues to be the best of all four UK nations, the First Minister and Health Secretary have made clear latest performance is not where it needs to be.
“NHS planning for winter is well underway across the service to strengthen service resilience and enhance national contingency planning.
“Our ambitious waiting times targets look to address the backlog of planned care and we are working hard with Boards to maximise capacity. We are making good progress and figures published this week show two year waits are clear in more than half of outpatient specialities (54 per cent).”