SCOTLAND’s health secretary is demanding the UK Government provide extra funding for NHS pay to stop “catastrophic” strike action by nurses this winter.

Humza Yousaf, along with the Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan have written a joint letter to health secretary Steve Barclay ahead of the autumn statement by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Thursday.

The move comes days after members of the Royal College of Nursing voted in favour of strike action for the first time in the 106-year history of the union in protest over pay and staffing levels. There are currently some 6000 nursing and midwifery posts unfilled in Scotland.

Mr Yousaf said the planned strike would be “catastrophic” for the NHS in Scotland but that he does not have funds for the pay rise the RCN is demanding.

The RCN says real-terms pay is 16 per cent lower than a decade ago. It wants a rise of 5 per cent above the retail price index level of inflation, which stands at 12.6 per cent.

But Mr Yousaf has said he had mustered all of his resources to offer an average 7 per cent rise to nurses, rising to 11 per cent for the lowest paid.

“We wanted to write to you in advance of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 17 November to once again make the case for additional funding for our hardworking NHS staff,” said the letter by Mr Yousaf and Ms Morgan.

“The Royal College of Nursing have announced a sweeping legal mandate for industrial action across the UK. In Scotland, they have joined several other unions representing NHS staff in gaining a legal mandate for industrial action with ballots expected to confirm a mandate in the rest of the UK.

“The risk to the NHS of industrial action this winter is profound, and we all need to do all we can to avert industrial action in any form. The NHS across the UK continues to feel the effects of the pandemic as it recovers and remobilises, and any action is likely to have catastrophic effects in all parts of the UK. “

Their letter added that anger among NHS staff amid the cost of living crisis  “is entirely understandable” and blamed former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s mini budget for high interest rates and the spike in inflation, currently around 12 per cent.

They went onto urge the Chancellor not to reimpose a policy of austerity through extensive spending cuts saying such a move would be “a disaster for our public services, including the NHS, at a time when they need more investment, not less”.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives accused Mr Yousaf of presiding over ‘500 days of failure’, as they repeated calls for his resignation. 

The party said that since the Health Secretary took office in May 2021, a new record low for the percentage of A&E patients waiting more than four hours has been set 14 times.

A further analysis by the party shows that – on the three different measures used (4, 8 and 12 hour) – record-worst A&E waiting-time statistics have been set 68 times. 

The Scottish Government’s own target for A&E waits is for 95 per cent of patients to be seen within four hours, yet for the last five weeks less than 95 per cent of emergency patients have been seen within 12 hours.

The Tories also pointed to:

• Cancer waiting times – which fell to their worst levels earlier this year, with one in four patients waiting more than 62 days for treatment after an urgent referral. 

• Delayed discharge – which hit the highest level on record last month, with an average of 1,832 beds occupied each day due to delayed discharges.

• NHS backlogs – almost 600,000 patients were waiting for NHS treatment according to the latest figures, the highest number since statistics were recorded in their current form.

 “Humza Yousaf’s stint as Health Secretary has been record-breaking for all the wrong reasons,” said Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane.

“Cancer treatment waits are reaching dangerous levels, delayed discharge is getting worse and backlogs are spiralling out of control. 

“A&E waiting times alone have broken new records almost once a week on average since he came to office.”

He added: “Humza Yousaf has presided over 500 days of failure – and now he has lost the trust of frontline staff as Scotland’s nurses have voted to go on strike for the first time ever....If the Health Secretary won’t do the decent thing and resign, it’s time for him to be sacked.”

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said a demand by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross for Mr Yousaf to be sacked was “laughable”.