THE Health Secretary has said he is “determined” to avert strike action by junior doctors but a 35% pay increase is “unaffordable”.

Last week, junior doctors in Scotland voted to strike in what will be their first national walkout over pay.

BMA Scotland members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, with 97% of those who were balloted backing the walkout, the union said, from a turnout of 71%.

The union then warned that if the Scottish Government does not put forward a credible pay deal, junior doctors will prepare to stage a 72-hour walkout, with dates to be confirmed.

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The BMA, currently in negotiations with ministers, claimed that pay for junior doctors had been eroded over the past 15 years with them earning 23.5% less than if they were doing the same job in 2008. The union added that a 35% pay increase would bring wages in line with inflation.

An increase of 4.5% has been rejected, with junior doctors claiming the offer was a real-terms pay cut.

Michael Matheson, Scottish Health Secretary, told the BBC he was “disappointed” with the outcome of the ballot, but insisted negotiations are ongoing.

“I'm determined to do everything I can to try and avert the possibility of industrial action because we saw the level of disruption it causes to the health service when the industrial action was taken in England and I want to do everything I can to try and avoid that here in Scotland,” he said.

The National: Matheson was probed about looming junior doctor strikes on the Sunday ShowMatheson was probed about looming junior doctor strikes on the Sunday Show (Image: BBC)

Scotland avoided strike action by NHS nurses at the end of last year after two unions voted to accept an increased pay offer from the Scottish Government.

Asked if the 23.5% and 35% pay increase figures are “completely unaffordable” for the Scottish Government, Matheson said: “I’ve been clear from the outset that 35% is simply not affordable because it would result in a very significant cut to the health service’s budget as a result which would have a detrimental impact on the level of patient services that we could provide.

“But I also recognise extremely important all that our junior doctors play within our health care system.”

“We did implement the 4.5% increase last year which was in line with what the doctors and dentist review body recommended,” the Health Secretary added.

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“They believe that is still insufficient and they're also looking for a further increase this year.

“So what I will do is everything I can to try and help to get some level of agreement with them.”

The Health Secretary said there were also long-term issues that junior doctors also need to be addressed.

BBC journalist Martin Geissler said that 50% of junior doctors want to leave the NHS, and asked Matheson if his predecessors Humza Yousaf, Jeane Freeman, and Nicola Sturgeon “have to take the blame for that”.

The National: Junior doctor strikes took place in England last monthJunior doctor strikes took place in England last month (Image: PA)

The Health Secretary said the issue began 20 years ago when junior doctors' contracts were changed due to an issue over exceedingly long “unsustainable” hours, and as part of those changes pay uplift was to be based on recommendations from a review body.

Matheson replied: “That has been applied, we've maintained that commitment going forward, but like across the rest of the public sector for some time now there has been a considerable level of pay restraint that has impacted on the overall wage.

“And what we're actually trying to do is to see if we can find a way in which we address that.”

Matheson added that he had plans to meet with junior doctors again later this week.

Dr Chris Smith, chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said that he was “glad” the Scottish Government had come to the table to discuss pay levels following the ballot.

“None of us want to go on strike,” he said.

“Every single doctor that filled in that ballot and posted it back, really would have had to have thought about that.

“No one goes into health care, not wanting to be the absolute best for their patients.

The National: Chris Smith said junior doctors don't want to go on strike and hope solutions will be found through negotiationsChris Smith said junior doctors don't want to go on strike and hope solutions will be found through negotiations (Image: BBC)

“We can get this done round the negotiating table rather than that picket line that will be beneficial for everyone.”

Asked to respond to Matheson’s claim that the Scottish Government didn’t have the money, Smith said: “We've lost 23 and a half percent of our pay since 2008, and that is causing doctors to look elsewhere like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, even Ireland, where our skills are compensated at the level we think we deserve.

“We're not asking for a pay rise here, we're just asking to be brought back to where we were 50 years ago.

“Our work certainly hasn't got a quarter easier, it's certainly not a quarter less of it. We just want to be brought up back to where we are.”