THE UK Government has a "moral obligation" to provide extra cash to fund pay deals for nurses and avert NHS strikes, the Scottish Health Secretary has said.

Although he insisted incoming strikes by members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the first in the union's 106-year history, are "not inevitable", Humza Yousaf told the BBC: "I don't have more money."

Nurses across the nations of the UK, in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all voted to take strike action over the pay dispute and concerns over patient safety last week.

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In Scotland, NHS staff have been offered an average of 7% pay rise, but nurses said this does not go far enough, and that they have concerns the offer would close the gap between bands and lead to fewer workers pursuing a promotion due to the small pay difference.

Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Tories health spokesperson, reiterated the party's call for Yousaf to resign on the BBC Sunday Show and blamed "SNP economics" for the UK-wide strikes. 

Yousaf told the BBC that he had to take "a really difficult decision" to reassign £480 million from the NHS budget, from primary care and mental health to social care, to put the 7% offer on the table.

The National: Yousaf said it was a 'difficult' decision to take almost half a billion from the health budget to fund the pay offerYousaf said it was a 'difficult' decision to take almost half a billion from the health budget to fund the pay offer (Image: PA)

He said: "I do believe that there is a way through these strikes. I don't for a minute think that strikes are inevitable, we will be getting back around the table not just with the RCN but with the other health trade unions.

"I do believe, having spoken to the RCN as I have over the course of the last seven days, I believe trade unions also think that a strike is not inevitable.

"We will have to negotiate. We can look at the redistribution of that £480 million, but the UK Government have got a moral obligation to give us more money given that they are the architects of this cost crisis.

"The reason why the RCN and others are asking for more money is not because they simply want more money for their members for the sake of it, it’s because of record high inflation.

"It's because of sky-high energy prices. I don't think the ask from the trade unions is unreasonable.

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"But it's for the UK Government, as I say as the architects of this cost crisis to make sure they're giving the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and others more money so we can afford these deals."

Julie Lamberth, senior charge nurse in maternity theatres and chair of the RCN nurses board, told the programme before Yousaf's interview that the decision taken by members to strike was "really difficult".

She added: "It is about pay, but the main thing is about safe staffing.

"We’re already 6000 nursing and midwifery posts shot within Scotland, over 4000 of them are nursing vacancies. So areas are unsafe, staff are leaving, the pay does not reflect the safety critical role that we do."

Lamberth added that the NHS was in a crisis before the pandemic but it has been "exacerbated" due to Covid-19.

She added: "We all stepped up, we can adapt, we can work elsewhere [with] our valuable skills, but right now our skills, our knowledge, with this recent pay award has not been valued and the nursing work staff have had enough."

Lamberth told the BBC that pay is a "political choice", and said although Scottish nurses are better paid they also pay more tax, adding that the 7% offer doesn't "significantly" improve pay for registered nurses or staff at senior level.

Gulhane, who appeared on the programme following Yousaf's interview, laid the blame for the strikes squarely at Yousaf's feet and echoed comments made by Douglas Ross at FMQs that the Health Secretary should be replaced.

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He said: "I think it's time that Nicola Sturgeon sacked Humza Yousaf or he did the right thing, and he actually resigned because trust is important."

Robertson pointed out to Gulhane that Yousaf had demanded more funding for devolved nations from the UK Government, and asked the Tory MSP where he believed the extra cash should come from.

Gulhane accused the First Minister of "grandstanding" at COP27 with a £5m pledge to help tackle loss and damage for vulnerable countries hit hardest by climate change.

The National: Gulhane blamed 'SNP economics' for the pay rowGulhane blamed 'SNP economics' for the pay row

Gulhane also mentioned the constitution department's budget remaining untouched and accused the Scottish Government of running "pretend embassies". 

When Robertson pointed out that this would come from next year's figures, Gulhane blamed "SNP economics" for focusing on "pet projects" like the ferries. 

The UK Government have been contacted for comment.