A STRIKE in the NHS during winter will be “catastrophic” despite contingency plans being put in place, Scotland’s Health Secretary has warned.

Humza Yousaf said he was committed to averting walkouts by health service staff, but blamed UK Government’s economic mismanagement for the issue and said it should “put its hand in its pockets” to provide more funding.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has voted to strike in a dispute over pay in the first UK-wide action in its 106-year history.

Speaking on a visit to Wishaw General Hospital before the results of the ballot were announced, Yousaf said funding had already been reallocated from other areas such as primary care, mental health and social care to put a record pay deal on the table and there is “no more money in the coffers”.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which expects industrial action to begin before the end of this year, has described the suggestion that fair pay should come at the expense of key services as “insulting”.

READ MORE: Unison NHS strike ballot halted after new pay offer from Scottish Government

Call for UK Government action

Yousaf called for the UK Government to step into help, saying the issue had been caused by its mismanagement of the economy.

“There is no doubt about it, my health budget is worth £650m less just due to inflation,” he said.

“Add to that the fact the pay offer we are having to make is way in excess of what we budgeted for, because understandably so our unions are asking for near inflation type of pay deals, again because of the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy.

“I would urge them, as I did earlier this week, when I spoke to Steve Barclay to put their hand in their pocket.

The National:

“This is not just a request coming from Scotland – I know the Welsh health minister and the Welsh first minister have made the same request for the UK Government to put some more money on the table to prevent a UK-wide strike.”

Yousaf said contingency plans had been discussed for many months, but warned current pressures facing the NHS would intensify if there were walkouts.

“There is simply no doubt whatsoever that a strike, however much we plan, whatever contingency we put in place, a strike in the health service in the midst of winter would be catastrophic, so everyone wants to avoid it,” he added.

Why the strikes are taking place

RCN members at all NHS boards in Scotland have voted in favour of strikes, while nurses across Northern Ireland have also voted for action.

In Wales all but one health board has backed strikes, while in England the turnout was too low in nearly half of NHS trusts for action to take place.

In Scotland, the RCN campaigned for a pay offer that was 5% above inflation, which currently stands at 10.1%.

The most recent offer from the Scottish Government was a flat £2205 increase.

Julie Lamberth, chairwoman of the RCN Scotland board, said: “NHS pay is a political choice and for Scottish Government ministers to suggest to nursing staff that fair pay should come at the expense of key services is insulting both to our members and the people of Scotland, who recognise that these services are already understaffed and rely on the goodwill of nursing staff to keep going.

“The Scottish Government needs to face up to the reality that their failure to focus on workforce planning and to properly value those working in health and social care over the last decade is the root cause of the staffing crisis we face.

“The result of our strike ballot is a wake-up call that must not be ignored.”

READ MORE: John Swinney warns current NHS pay offer is all Scottish Government can afford

Opposition parties blame SNP

Opposition politicians also criticised the Scottish Government following the RCN strike ballot announcement, with the Scottish Tories claiming the “fault lies squarely at the feet of Humza Yousaf and the SNP”.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats accused the SNP of “playing fast and loose with our NHS” and allowing staff to become “overworked, overwhelmed and undervalued”.

Yousaf earlier said the situation was the same across the UK and any political party would be facing the same issues with the NHS in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

“The situation is extremely difficult in Conservative-led England, Labour-run Wales and what was DUP-run Northern Ireland,” he said.

“To make this about an individual or even about a political party I think it missing the point – the point is we have had the biggest shock the NHS has ever faced in its 74-year existence.”