Scotland’s new health secretary urged to address NHS workforce crisis

The new health secretary in Scotland must address the country’s NHS workforce crisis and fulfil the promises that were laid out in the recent pay negotiations with health unions, nurse leaders have urged.

Michael Matheson has today been appointed to the role that has been rebranded to “cabinet secretary for NHS recovery, health and social care”.

“The workforce crisis in Scotland’s health and care services must be Michael Matheson’s top priority”

Colin Poolman

Mr Matheson is taking over from Humza Yousaf, who was this week elected as the new first minister for Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party.

Mr Yousaf, who had served as the cabinet secretary for health and social care since 2021, managed to prevent nurse strikes in the country through a series of negotiations with health unions.

To date, Scotland continues to be the only country in the UK to have avoided strike action from nurses during the ongoing national 2022-23 pay dispute.

Following his appointment as first minister, Mr Yousaf announced yesterday that recovering and reforming the NHS in Scotland was one of his key priorities.

The Scottish Government confirmed to Nursing Times that the cabinet secretary’s new title now includes reference to NHS recovery to reflect it being an immediate priority.

Prior to becoming an MSP, Mr Matheson practised as a community occupational therapist with Stirling Council, Central Regional Council, and Highland Regional Council.

During his time in government he has served as cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, as well as cabinet secretary for transport, connectivity and infrastructure.

He has also served as cabinet secretary for justice and as the minister for public health.

Responding to the appointment of Mr Matheson, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland director, Colin Poolman, said: “The message today is no different than earlier this week when the new first minister was announced.

“The workforce crisis in Scotland’s health and care services must be Michael Matheson’s top priority.

“Whilst imminent strike action from Scotland’s nurses has been avoided, chronic staff shortages and low morale are still very real and having a huge impact on the safety and quality of patient care.”

Mr Poolman explained that RCN Scotland wanted to see “urgent action” to tackle the exodus of nursing staff from the profession, and to make “nursing a career of choice once again”.

Figures show there are more than 4,000 registered nurse vacancies in Scotland.

Colin Poolman

Mr Poolman added that the new cabinet secretary must prioritise the work of the new Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce, launched by his predecessor last month to improve working conditions for nurses and midwives and boost workforce numbers.

In addition, he called on Mr Matheson to “promise to reform Agenda for Change”, which the Scottish Government committed to in the recent pay negotiations.

“We look forward to working with the new cabinet secretary to build a sustainable nursing workforce to meet Scotland’s needs,” said Mr Poolman.

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