Yousaf can’t afford not to pay nurses more - Sue Webber

With £20m stubbornly ring-fenced for an independence referendum next year that a clear majority of Scots don’t want, the SNP’s health minister Humza Yousaf has more brass than the Brighouse & Rastrick band to say the Scottish Government doesn’t have the money to give Scottish nurses a better pay deal.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

In fairness, the Scottish Government’s proposed flat increase of £2205, an average rise of 7 per cent and back-dated to April, is a reasonable opening to bargaining, but with inflation at just over 10 per cent this is a negotiation in which it’s an abrogation of duty for Mr Yousaf to suggest it’s someone else’s responsibility to fund a deal.

With over 6000 nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland ─ registered nursing vacancies have jumped 22 per cent in the last year alone ─ it’s hardly surprising nurses feel over-worked and undervalued, especially when they see millions frittered away on botched projects like the £340m on two ferries still years from their maiden voyages.

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And nurses will know that at least £1.3bn is about to be splurged on a National Care Service in which most of the money will go on bureaucratic re-shuffling, not the front line where it would make the most impact on the daily lives of staff and patients alike.

Thanks to Scottish Conservative research, we now know that in the eight years since the SNP promised to end delayed discharges within a year, some 3,000 ‘fit’ people languished in hospital and died before they could be released. This year alone, 432 patients who could have been discharged have died on a ward, and spending over £1bn on another centralisation scheme is not going to save a single life.

Meanwhile, a lack of trained surgical nurses leaves theatres underused and surgeons underoccupied while waiting lists grow ever longer.

The NHS staffing crisis is all around us, and if there is one branch of the service which could do more to alleviate pressure on hospitals it is General Practitioners, the backbone and gateway to the system which is every bit in crisis as the care system.

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Again, the number of qualified medical staff can’t keep pace with growing demand from both an ageing population and the expansion of housing estates, with the number of GPs virtually unchanged, at 3600 full-time equivalents, while the population has risen to 5.47m and expected to grow another 10,000 in the next six years.

Housing developers happily commit to building new GP surgeries in sprawling new estates, without any idea where the qualified medics will be found. And why should they? As 5000 homes go up around Winchburgh, it’s not the responsibility of Cala or Taylor Wimpey to source doctors and nurses.

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It’s the same at Cammo and Ratho, where the intention to build two new estates was notified this week. When such medical training places as there are can’t be filled because the profession is not attractive enough, where will these new families find a family doctor?

The nurses’ pay claim is not just about helping existing staff make ends meet, it’s about transforming the service to meet the needs of a changing population, so the question for Humza Yousaf is not whether he can afford to pay more, but if he can afford not to.

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Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians