The health secretary who managed to prevent nurse strikes in Scotland has been elected as the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and is set to become first minister of the country.
Humza Yousaf, who has served as the cabinet secretary for health and social care since 2021, announced this afternoon that one of his immediate priorities as leader would be “to recover and reform” the NHS in Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called on Mr Yousaf to ensure that tackling severe workforce challenges in the country’s health and care services was a “top priority”.
The leadership election, which was triggered by Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, took place through the single transferable vote system, with 50,490 of the SNP’s 72,169 members casting a vote (70%).
“Whilst imminent strike action from Scotland’s nurses has been avoided, the chronic staff shortages and low morale are still very real”
In the first round of voting, candidate Ash Regan was knocked out of the race after receiving just 11% of the vote – with Mr Yousaf receiving 48% and rival Kate Forbes receiving 40%.
Then Mr Yousaf defeated Ms Forbes by 52% to 48% in the second round of voting – with Mr Yousaf receiving 26,032 votes and Ms Forbes receiving 23,890.
The new SNP leader will face a vote tomorrow by MSPs at Scottish Parliament before he is formally confirmed as first minister.
If he is elected, he will become the first minority ethnic leader of a devolved UK nation.
During a speech following his appointment, Mr Yousaf said that if he was elected as first minister after tomorrow’s vote, he would work “every minute of every day” to earn and re-earn the respect of Scottish citizens.
Mr Yousaf also outlined some of his key priorities as first minister.
He said: “My immediate priority will be to continue to protect every Scot, as far as we possibly can, from the harm inflicted by the cost-of-living crisis, to recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services, to support our wellbeing economy, to improve the life chances of people right across this country.”
As health secretary Mr Yousaf was a key figure in the pay negotiations which took place between health unions and the Scottish Government in recent months.
As a result of the negotiations, nurses last week voted to accept the latest pay offer from the government.
Scotland continues to be the only country in the UK to have to date avoided strike action from nurses during the ongoing national 2022-23 pay dispute.
In addition, the implementation of the latest pay deal means that nurses in Scotland remain the best paid in the UK.
Responding to Mr Yousaf’s appointment, RCN Scotland director, Colin Poolman, said that the severe workforce challenges facing Scotland’s health and care services “must be a top priority for the next first minister”.
He said: “Whilst imminent strike action from Scotland’s nurses has been avoided, the chronic staff shortages and low morale are still very real.
“Over 4,000 registered nurses are missing from teams across Scotland, impacting on the safety and quality of patient care and putting even more pressure on staff who are already working extra unpaid hours to cover gaps and going home feeling that they are unable to provide the quality of care they want.”
Mr Poolman called on the new first minister to tackle the workforce crisis, prioritise the work of the new Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce, “and live up to his promise to reform Agenda for Change and make nursing a career of choice once again”.
RCN Scotland also echoed these calls in a letter it sent to all three SNP leadership candidates earlier this month.
In the letter, it highlighted the importance of the new Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce, which the Scottish Government launched last month to improve working conditions for nurses and midwives and boost workforce numbers.
The letter said: “The taskforce should make recommendations in a range of areas that can improve the sustainability of the nursing workforce including career progression, flexible working and support for student nurses.
“It is vital that the work of the taskforce continues to be led by the cabinet secretary for health and social care and that this work proceeds at pace.”
At the time, Mr Yousaf was the only candidate to respond to the letter, in which he said he had “listened to the calls” from the RCN which led to the Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce being established.
He added: “If elected first minister, I am absolutely committed to continued engagement with the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, and other stakeholders to support our existing workforce and ensure a sustainable future for nursing.
“That’s why I will ensure that my health secretary leads the Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce.”