Jim O’Neill says nurses can’t feed their families with hashtags from the First Minister – it’s time to scrap the nurses’ pay cap imposed by the SNP.


First, a declaration of interest. Both my brother and sister are nurses. My mother was a nurse, my aunt a matron and my daughter is a phlebotomist, although she has now left the NHS for sunnier (and better paid) climes in Australia. Through a longish life, I have had great care from the nurses in the NHS and I am proud to say I was born in the NHS.

Thus, I was proud to celebrate National Nurses Day last Friday, tweeting and Facebooking my support for our nurses. I noticed that Nicola Sturgeon also celebrated our nurses that day, tweeting the hashtag #heronurses. I must admit that I found that more than a little hypocritical, given that she and her party had voted to maintain the pay cap on nurses and other ancillary staff at 1% when inflation was trending at 2.5%, thus causing nurses to take an effective pay cut, now and every year until 2020.

This was in response to Labour’s motion in the Scottish Parliament to scrap the cap and allow real negotiations to return to health service wages, a motion that was defeated. Labour has also decided to scrap the cap in England and Wales if they are elected in the General Election, showing that Labour is the real party of public service.

The Royal College of Nursing also marked National Nurses Day by releasing a report which showed that a Grade 5 nurse would lose over £3,400 as a result of the cap and that the nurse recruitment crisis was worsening, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is no wonder that a new generation is thinking twice about turning to nursing as a career, with wages kept artificially low and the esteem in which they are held by our Scottish Government confined to warm words and a hashtag tweet. You can’t feed your family with a hashtag.

And our First Minister cannot avoid her share of the blame for the nursing crisis for it was she, while Health Minister, who cut the number of nurses to be recruited, a fact that seems to have been whitewashed from her biography. So, the nursing crisis is quite simply the result of decisions by the Scottish Government, not austerity or any other weasel reasons that their supporters come up with. Nye Bevan said, “Socialism is the language of priorities”. Clearly the Scottish Government’s priorities are elsewhere.

Turning to the massive ransomware attack which affected 7 Scottish Health Boards and many GP surgeries, along with many others in England, it would seem that many English trusts are still using Windows XP on their computers, operating software so old that Microsoft no longer support it. When Microsoft made that decision in 2015, NHS England did a special cybersecurity deal with them. However, that deal was cancelled by NHS England in 2016, leaving much of their computers open to security breaches. Maybe that is why Jeremy Hunt has been seen so little in the past few days. They would also not have received the special “patch”, a modification issued by Microsoft when they heard that this attack software, developed by the United States National Security Agency, had been stolen. Again, NHS England were even more vulnerable to such an attack.

Since much of this software and hardware dates from before the break up of the NHS, it is reasonable to ask what is the situation in Scotland. When Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP, did NHS Scotland do a cybersecurity deal with them? Do they still have that deal? How much of Scotland’s health service is still using Windows XP? Did they get the patch? How vulnerable is Scotland’s health service to cyber attack? And it was no help saying that no patient records were lost or stolen. Ransomware is not interested in that. It scrambles your records until you pay a ransom, and then they release your records back to you.

So, Shona Robinson has a lot of questions to answer. Maybe she will come to Holyrood and make a statement answering these questions. If not, I am sure Anas Sarwar will ask them. Over to you, Anas.