Scottish Labour leadership told to condemn 'slur against NHS staff' by shadow health secretary

Scottish Labour’s leader has been urged to condemn claims from his UK party colleagues that health unions wanted to lower standards for patients to receive higher pay awards.

In a letter from SNP MSP and registered nurse Emma Harper, Anas Sarwar and deputy leader and health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, are urged to condemn comments from shadow health spokesperson Wes Streeting that unions are “hostile”

The calls comes a day after NHS Scotland staff agreed a new pay deal which resulted in the cancellation of planned strike action from ambulance staff and some health workers.

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Physiotherapists are still to decide on the offer, which would involve a 11.3 per cent pay rise for the lowest paid and an average rise of 7.5 per cent. This followed negotiations with health secretary Humza Yousaf and the intervention of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The agreement means NHS workers in Scotland remain the best paid in the UK.

The Sunday Telegraph had quoted Mr Streeting as saying the union was “living on a different planet” and being “hostile” towards the idea of improved standards alongside an expansion of the health service. The British Medical Association (BMA) responded by saying his comments were “incredibly disappointing” and would leave staff “extremely concerned” about Labour’s approach towards a pay settlement.

Writing to the senior Scottish Labour figures, Ms Harper said she was “shocked and appalled” by the Labour frontbencher’s comments, labelled them “frankly insulting” and accused him of an “outrageous slur”.

She wrote: “It is time Labour stopped working against unions and recognised their efforts by getting behind calls to offer health workers a fair pay deal. That is why in Scotland they have been offered a record 8 per cent pay increase, the biggest increase offered in the UK.

"At no point during the negotiations have the BMA suggested they support lowering standards for patients and to suggest otherwise is an outrageous slur against the profession. For a Labour MP to use the term ‘hostile’ to describe any union, let alone those representing health workers, really is unconscionable.”

Anas Sarwar is facing calls to condemn comments from shadow health secretary Wes Streeting around health unions.Anas Sarwar is facing calls to condemn comments from shadow health secretary Wes Streeting around health unions.
Anas Sarwar is facing calls to condemn comments from shadow health secretary Wes Streeting around health unions.

Ms Harper added: “I remember when Labour stood side-by-side with trade unions, but during this round of strikes your party’s rhetoric of pitting working people against the rest of the population makes you look more and more like a Tory tribute act every day.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson did not condemn the comments from Mr Streeting, but instead accused the SNP MSP of a “pathetic attack” and of “deliberately misrepresent[ing] the facts”.

The spokesperson said: “Labour is the party of the NHS and will always stand up for NHS workers. This is a pathetic attack from Emma Harper, who has deliberately misrepresented the facts. Scottish Labour has a strong relationship with the BMA and all health unions.

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“The SNP cannot pick and choose when to listen to the BMA so that it fits their political games. Ms Harper should reflect on the fact that it is the failure of her SNP Government that has forced the RCN into balloting for strike action for the first time in its 100-year history.

“Scottish Labour will continue to defend our NHS from Tory and SNP cuts and incompetence.”

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