Nicola Sturgeon: Preventing NHS strikes ‘very hard’ but talks will continue

Efforts to prevent strikes in Scotland’s NHS are ongoing but will be “very, very hard”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister reiterated that there is no more money available this year for an enhanced pay offer.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said he had been in talks with union leaders, saying that he had spoken to them more than his own mother over the festive period.

While some health unions have accepted pay deals for 2022/23, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland members voted to reject the latest pay offer.

NHS crisis
Humza Yousaf said talks are ongoing (Russell Cheyne)

Strike dates are expected to be announced early this month if the dispute is not resolved.

Members of the Royal College of Midwives have also rejected the latest pay offer.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Yousaf were asked about the possibility of industrial action as they detailed the pressures on the NHS at a media briefing on Monday.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We have no more money this year and we’ve said that all along.”

She said discussions around next year’s pay deals are quickly approaching.

Issues other than pay are also part of the current discussions, she said.

The First Minister said: “We remain actively engaged with unions, and that will continue.

“I consider it  – and I’m not being in any way complacent about this – I think this will be a very, very hard thing to achieve.

“But I am very, very clear about the priority I attach to avoiding industrial action in our national health service.”

She added: “I value the work that our national health service staff do and I don’t want any member of the NHS workforce feeling that the only option is to take industrial action.”

Ms Sturgeon said there are always contingency plans if industrial action does go ahead, but her focus is on avoiding it.

Scotland has so far managed to avoid industrial action in the NHS, she said, unlike in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Yousaf said a majority of unionised staff in the NHS had accepted the pay deal.

He said: “Conversations with those who rejected it continue.

“It would be fair to say I’ve spoken to some trade union leaders more than I’ve spoken to my mum over the festive period.”

Responding to the First Minister’s comments, RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said the nursing workforce was at the heart of the NHS’ challenges.

He said: “We simply don’t have the nursing workforce we need, and it is patients and families who are suffering.

“Our previous warnings have not been listened to.

“Thousands of nursing posts are vacant, we’re not seeing the numbers we need applying to study nursing and many experienced staff are so worn down they are opting to leave the profession.

“The Scottish Government and employers must do more to value and retain our existing experienced nursing workforce and to attract the workforce of the future – fair pay is a fundamental part of this.”