Nurses’ leaders in Scotland have recommended their members accept a new pay offer from the government in Edinburgh, in a breakthrough that looks set to spare patients from the strike action that has affected England and Wales for the past two months.
Under the proposed deal, NHS workers in Scotland would receive a rise of at least 6.5 per cent from April this year. Nurses and ambulance staff in Scotland have refrained from walkouts during negotiations.
The Royal College of Nursing’s willingness to back the offer comes as the dispute in England and Wales looks set to escalate next month when nurses plan to withdraw cover even from critical care services and extend the length of walkouts to 48 hours. The Scottish pay offer could be an indication of the pay rise required to avert action elsewhere.
Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland Board, said the union had considered the offer and believed it would “make a positive difference for our members which is why we are recommending they vote to accept the offer”.
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, said on Twitter that he was “delighted to offer NHS workers the largest pay package in the history” of the health service.
Unison, another big health union, which represents ambulance workers across the UK, contrasted the willingness of the Scottish government to negotiate to what they painted as the UK government’s intransigence over the dispute in England.
Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said: “Once again, Holyrood has shown Westminster up . . . [Prime minister] Rishi Sunak should take heed and give it a go too.” The union has yet to decide whether it will accept the offer in Scotland but on Friday described it as “credible and serious”.
Ambulance workers in Wales represented by the GMB union had earlier rejected a higher pay offer from the principality’s administration. Two-thirds of the GMB members who voted turned down the deal which would have handed them an average 5.5 per cent pay rise and a 1.5 per cent one-off bonus. The union’s 1,500 members are now expected to join about 10,000 English ambulance workers in staging a mass strike on February 20.
Nathan Holman, GMB Welsh NHS lead, thanked the Welsh government “for actually entering talks, but if this is their final offer it’s too low for our members”.
Unison also sought to intensify pressure on the government by announcing that around 12,000 more health workers were now eligible to participate in strike action after re-ballots passed the required threshold in four English ambulance services and five NHS organisations, including NHS Blood and Transplant, where it had not initially been met. The union described this as “a significant escalation of the dispute”.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea urged UK prime minister Rishi Sunak to ditch “his ‘do nothing’ strategy for dealing with escalating strikes across the NHS”.
She commended ministers in Scotland and Wales for talking to health unions and coming up with higher pay offers for the current year. To the fury of the unions, ministers have so far ruled out reopening the pay settlement for 2022-23 in England.
The prime minister “must roll up his sleeves, invite the unions into Downing Street and start the genuine pay talks that could end this damaging dispute”, she added.
Staff across key sectors, from train drivers to postal workers, have taken industrial action over the past few months as inflation has far outstripped pay settlements.
Additional reporting by Lukanyo Mnyanda