Relations between the Government and health professionals sank to a new low after Andrew Lansley accused them of opposing his NHS reforms because they were upset about cuts to their pay and pensions.
Their union leaders reacted furiously to the Health Secretary's claim that they wanted "to have a go" at the Government and the suggestion that they were not assessing his NHS shake-up on its merits.
Mr Lansley is under fresh pressure after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) joined the British Medical Association in calling on the Government to drop its NHS and Social Care Bill.
The Health Secretary told the BBC the legislation was essential in order to give nurses and doctors clinical leadership. He said: "They [the RCN] used to be a professional association that was working with us on professional issues and will carry on doing that, but now the trade union aspect of the Royal College of Nursing has come to the fore, they want to have a go at the Government ... about things like pay and pensions."
He added: "It's a purely political operation."
Mr Lansley claimed the RCN and RCM support the principles of the Bill.
"What they are actually unhappy about is pay, pensions and jobs. I completely understand that. But if there were no Bill the same issues would have to be addressed. We inherited a deficit, we are having to manage the NHS within limited increases, but actually next year the NHS budget is going to go up by 2.8 per cent."
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said he "utterly rejects" Mr Lansley's claims. "We are disappointed that the Secretary of State would suggest that nurses and healthcare assistants would put self interest before that of patients."
He added: "Members up and down the country are telling us that this Bill is seriously destabilising the NHS."
Dr Carter argued that carrying out the reforms at a time when the NHS must find £20bn in savings was "quite simply, the wrong thing to do".Reuse content