Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt / Getty Images

Exclusive: Healthcare workers from Unite union are considering industrial action

Jeremy Hunt’s “failure” to grant doctors a 1 per cent pay rise has left the profession with “a deep sense of outrage”, the leader of the doctors’ union has said – warning that refusing to invest more in the NHS has put the future of the health service itself at risk.

In a personal letter to the Health Secretary seen by The Independent, British Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Porter urged Mr Hunt to reconsider last week’s decision to reject advice from independent pay advisors by denying healthcare workers a below inflation pay rise.

The Department of Health claimed last week that all NHS staff would get at least a 1 per cent pay increase this year. But Dr Porter said the Health Secretary had been guilty of a “deliberate conflation” of public sector pay rises designed to rise with the cost of living, and wage increases linked to professional development.

Healthcare workers from Unite union are considering industrial action, while a strike has also been discussed by members of GMB union – the unions represent 550,000 NHS staff. However, Dr Porter told The Independent the BMA’s concern went beyond a dispute over pay, which, adjusted for inflation, has fallen by 13 per cent for consultants and trainees and by 11 per cent for GPs.

“Crucially, this is about more than doctors’ pay,” he said. “It goes to the heart of the financial crisis facing the NHS and its ability to deliver the best possible patient care in the future. Chipping away at wages highlights the fact the Government doesn’t yet have a meaningful and sustainable solution to addressing the funding gap in the health service. Without the investment needed to meet rising demand from an ageing population, and put the NHS on a sustainable financial footing, then we need to face up to the reality that patient care, and the future of the NHS, will be at risk.”

He said despite Government claims to be protecting the NHS budget, this was “not the reality on the frontline”, adding 2014/15 would be the fifth consecutive year staff had faced a pay cut in real terms.

The Government has not cut NHS spending, allowing minsters to claim it has been “protected”, but the rate at which the annual budget rises has reduced to nearly zero. Mr Hunt claimed a universal pay increase would be “unaffordable”, but said all healthcare workers would get at least a 1 per cent pay rise due to a pay progression scheme.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the Pay Review Body’s recommendations would have cost £450m to implement. “The Health Secretary has made it clear that his door is open to agree alternative proposals on pay providing we can continue to protect the frontline,” said the spokesperson.