NHS staff opposed to the introduction of regional pay and conditions have taken their campaign to the streets to garner further public support.

More than 20,000 people have signed a national petition against the plans which campaigners in the South West say will cut staff pay.

Union representatives say morale is plunging as a result of the so-called pay cartel: a group of NHS trusts in the South West which have formed a consortium to fix terms and conditions of the region's health workers.

The consortium has proposed cutting sick pay, reducing the working week and cutting unsocial hours pay by 10%, said Unison.

Dozens of NHS workers protested outside North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple to raise awareness of their fight against the "postcode pay deal".

Sarah Woodward, Unison area organiser, said: "There is a lot of support from members of the public for our cause which we will fight all the way. The pay cartel is bad news for low-paid areas like the South West and staff are understandably worried. There is no way we want a postcode pay deal.

"What today's protest has shown us is that the public, as well as MPs, are behind us. We now need the powers-that-be to hear us."

Jim Clawson, chairman of Devon Health Forum, said the discussions about NHS staff conditions are seriously damaging morale within the health service.

"We are talking about pay and conditions: things that really matter to workers across the country. People can sympathise with that which is why we had a lot of support from motorists tooting their horns today," he pointed out.

"I would say there is pretty much universal backing for what we're fighting for."

The workers are expected to stage another protest in Exeter on Tuesday.

According to Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, the cartel was established "in response to the serious financial and clinical service challenges facing the NHS, both now and in the future".

It said: "We, like all trusts in the consortium, are totally committed to engaging with staff and local unions throughout the period in which the full business case is produced, and beyond.

"It is important to stress that no recommendations or proposals have been put forward, nor have any decisions been made.

"We will discuss any proposal with all our staff and trades unions to ensure that any decision we make is the right one and that our staff understand the facts behind the decision."

Earlier, shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said the NHS shows signs of "heading in the wrong direction" in response to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre which said people lodged 3,100 complaints about their experience of the NHS every week in the past year.

"In just two years the Prime Minister has turned a successful NHS into a service that's demoralised, destabilised and fearful of the future," Mr Gwynne said.