MORE than 35000 Scots NHS staff, including nurses, are to balloted for strike action as a new study shows that eight in ten people believe there are not enough staff to provide safe and effective care.

Unison, Scotland’s largest health union, and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland, insist that a 5% pay rise being offered is not good enough with inflation nearing 10%, reports our sister title The Herald.

Those being balloted over potential strike action include nurses, cleaners, NHS24 staff and ambulance crews.

It comes amidst a growing backlash over pay from public sector workers after ministers agreed a "breakthrough" up to 10% deal in a separate ScotRail dispute with train drivers union Aslef which is expected to end a row which led to emergency timetable cuts of to up to half of daily services since the middle of May.

Unison has said in what are the first steps towards taking industrial action a ballot will take place of NHS staff across Scotland to recommend they reject the Scottish government’s pay offer and vote to take strike action in the coming months.

The NHS consultative digital ballot opened yesterday and closes on August 8.

RCN Scotland, which also opened a pay ballot published a survey of over 1000 people online which revealed "widespread concern" that there are not enough nursing staff to provide safe and effective care.

It found that 80% of the Scottish public believe there are not enough nursing staff to provide safe and effective care in Scotland’s health and care services.

Some 70% said that the Scottish government's current pay offer for NHS Scotland Agenda for Change staff is "less than adequate" to recognise the value of nursing staff.

And two in three identified pay as one of the main factors influencing whether there are enough nurses and healthcare support workers to provide safe and effective care.

The levels of stress involved in nursing and the number of hours staff have to work were also highlighted as key factors.

The RCN’s Fair Pay for Nursing campaign is calling for a pay increase of 5% above inflation in order to recognise the "safety critical aspect of nursing, to support retention and recruitment, to ensure patient safety and to compensate for the failure of salaries to keep up with the cost of living during the last 10 years".

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Commenting on the launch of the RCN pay ballot, Julie Lamberth, chairman of the RCN Scotland board, said: “The public are absolutely right to be concerned about nursing shortages. 86% of RCN members in Scotland have told us that staffing levels are not sufficient to provide safe and effective care and six in 10 RCN members are considering leaving their job.

“Nursing pay has been held below inflation for years and the spiraling cost of living has only worsened the impact of longstanding low pay. With staffing levels at crisis point and nursing vacancies at a record high, there has never been a more important time to fight for the pay that nursing staff deserve.

“This poll shows that the public recognise that fair pay is vital for improving staffing levels and providing safe care and that they agree that the Scottish government’s pay offer is inadequate. Our members are exhausted, feel undervalued and are leaving the profession in large numbers. To recruit and retain enough staff to deliver safe and effective care to patients, the Scottish government must pay nurses what they deserve. This is a political choice.

“Fair pay is vital to protect patient safety, address staff shortages and demonstrate that the nursing workforce is valued as a safety critical profession.”

Unison say that members are "angry and feel they are being taken for granted".

They union says the pay offer is "deeply unfair" as it will give those at top of the pay bands a pay rise of over £5,000 per year whilst those on the lower pay bands will get nearer £1000 per year.

They say the ballot is launched in the midst of a staffing crisis in the NHS, with worker turnover "higher than ever" waiting lists at an "all time high" and the NHS facing "real challenges to recruit" with over 6000 nurse vacancies across Scotland.

The union says that staff regularly report that they are regularly left in wards working with staffing levels below minimum standards.

They also report they are constantly worried they make mistakes, or fail to deliver basic patient care.

The union says the problems were building long before Covid, and that the pandemic has only "exacerbated the issues".

Wilma Brown, chairman of the Unison Scotland health committee said: “NHS staff have been taken for granted, staff have endured over 10 years of real terms pay cuts only to be told by the Scottish Government that, yet again, they will have to accept a below inflation pay rise.

“NHS staff have family bills to pay, food, energy and petrol prices are rocketing. NHS staff are struggling to afford the price of fuel to get them to work. They need more than praise and platitudes from Government, they need a decent pay rise to support their families.

“A 5% pay increase across the board just doesn’t cut it and the Scottish Government need to understand how angry we are. Unison are urging members to vote to reject this pay offer and indicate that they will take the very difficult decision to take industrial action, unless of course the Health Minister improves the offer on the table.”

Glasgow Times: EMBARGOED TO 0001 MONDAY JULY 4..File photo dated 12/5/2022 of Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. Thalidomide survivors living in Scotland are to receive lifelong financial support from the Scottish Government. Yousaf said he hoped the "lifelong

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf has previously said the proposed wages hike – which could amount to £2,400 a year for some frontline employees – was a “demonstration of how much we value our NHS staff who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe during the course of the pandemic”.

The deal, which would apply to nurses, paramedics, allied health professionals and healthcare support staff, is the largest pay rise ever to be offered to NHS workers since devolution.

The proposed 5% rise is the second year in a row the Scottish Government has made a record pay offer to NHS staff – after a 4% increase last year.

The pay rise would be backdated to April 1 2022, with the Government stating that staff could receive an additional £1,000 to £2,400 a year in their pay packets, depending on their role and experience.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are disappointed that Unison is recommending members reject this offer which, if accepted, will be the biggest single year pay rise NHS Agenda for Staff have seen since devolution, and will ensure that our staff continue to remain the best paid in the UK. “Under this pay offer experienced porters will receive more than £1,000 extra, while a healthcare support worker will see more than £1,200 extra. Experienced nurses will see their pay rise by more than £1,600 and an experienced advanced nurse practitioner will receive almost £2,400 more.

“The record 5% pay offer builds on NHS Scotland staff being the best paid in the four nations. The UK Government would need to deliver pay uplifts of between 6% to 14% to front line NHS England Agenda for Change staff to catch up with pay levels in Scotland.”

Last month an RCN Scotland investigation found Scots ministers were breaching the law on safe staffing by allowing the enlisting of students to fill gaps in nursing cover in the NHS in Scotland.

RCN Scotland says the staffing crisis was posing a risk to patients and comes precisely three years after safe staffing became enshrined in law, after a First Minister promise in 2016.

The study found that seven in ten staff say patient care is being compromised due to low staffing levels uncovering "clear evidence" that students and support staff are being used to fill staffing gaps.

And almost nine in 10 (86%) nursing staff from Scotland said that the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet the needs of patients safely and effectively.

The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019 which gained Royal Assent on this very day three years ago (June 6) places a duty on health and care providers to ensure there are suitably qualified and competent staff working in the right numbers and restates that nursing students are not to be counted in determining staffing level requirements.