All Scottish health boards to be impacted as nurses vote for strike action
Nurses across all Scottish health board areas are to walk out in a dispute over pay and conditions following a strike ballot carried out by representative body the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
An exact timetable of walk-outs is yet to be announced, but industrial action is expected to begin before the end of this year and is likely to run through until March next year, when the union’s mandate will expire.
The ballot was held on a UK-wide basis and all NHS employers in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be affected. Not all hospitals in England will be impacted as turnout in some areas was below the threshold required to trigger a strike. Similarly, one NHS employer in Wales will not be affected.
The RCN has committed to operating a preservation-of-life model during the strike, but its general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said members felt the action is necessary to maintain safety standards in the longer term.
“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses,” she said. “Standards are falling too low and we have strong public backing for our campaign to raise them.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie called the decision by the RCN “historic” and accused the SNP government of “incompetence on a historic scale”.
“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,” she said.
The Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the blame for the strike action in Scotland lies “squarely at the feet of [health secretary] Humza Yousaf and the SNP”.
“Years of failed SNP workforce planning have piled the pressure on our heroic nursing staff and, with more than 6,000 nursing vacancies in Scotland right now, they are understandably at breaking point,” he said.
The action has come after RCN members in Scotland rejected a five per cent pay offer made in August. Across the UK, the organisation’s members are demanding a pay rise of five percentage points over RPI inflation, which is expected to be at around 10 per cent at the end of this year.
Last week deputy first minister John Swinney, who is currently covering finance secretary Kate Forbes’s maternity leave, warned the Scottish Government “has gone as far as it can go” in revised pay offers.
The UK Government is due to unveil its spending plans next week, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt expected to make wide-ranging cuts across the public sector.
Despite this, Cullen is urging politicians across the UK to act to protect nursing staff from the cost-of-living crisis.
“Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this,” she said.
“While we plan our strike action, next week’s Budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a new direction with serious investment.
“Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point.”
Yousaf said he was "naturally disappointed" that the government's "record pay offer" had been rejected by the RCN, but that he respects "the mandate given to them by their members" and would "spend every waking moment working with unions to avoid a strike this winter".
However, he added that the government had already "reprofiled" £400m in the health budget to fund the pay deal on offer and that there is "no more money".