In the first pay strike by NHS staff in more than 30 years, there will be a walkout over the Government’s decision to deny them a one per cent pay rise / Getty Images

Public urged to call 999 only in ‘life-threatening’ situations, as army and police prepare to crew London’s ambulances

England’s chief nursing officer has promised that “robust plans” are in place to ensure patient safety, despite health workers planning to stop work today.

In the first pay strike by NHS staff in more than 30 years, there will be a walkout over the Government’s decision to deny them a one per cent pay rise. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) will be participating in its first strike action since it was founded in 1881.

Jane Cummings, NHS England’s Chief Nursing Officer, said plans were in place to cope with the strike and urged staff to “think carefully” about taking part. She said yesterday: “They work very hard and put the safety of patients first. So I would say to staff, I know that you are professional. I know that you will think very carefully about any action you take tomorrow.”

With military personnel and police officers due to be deployed by the London Ambulance Service to cover for striking staff in the capital, she called for public understanding, saying: “As a nurse, I know that Monday mornings are often extremely busy for the NHS and it may be busier than normal this Monday because of the strike.

“The safety of patients is our top priority and we have robust plans in place. If necessary, the most urgent cases will be put first and we would ask the public to help, for example, by only calling an ambulance if it is a life-threatening situation.”

The dispute involves more than 400,000 NHS staff, who have been hit by pay freezes or below-inflation rises since the Coalition came to power in 2010. Ministers say a universal pay rise would be unaffordable and result in the loss of 6,000 nursing jobs.Picket lines are due to be mounted outside hospitals and ambulance stations across England for four hours from 7am this morning and will start later in Northern Ireland.

The unions stressed that staff would continue to provide “life and limb cover”. They said emergency care would not be targeted, although more routine aspects of care, like patient transport and ante-natal clinics, might be disrupted. Doctors and dentists are not involved in the strike. Unions are protesting at the Government’s decision not to accept an independent pay review body’s recommendation to award a 1 per cent pay rise to all staff. Instead, ministers decided to give a 1 per cent pay rise only to those on top of their pay band, which the unions say has denied the 1 per cent increase to 60 per cent of NHS workers.

Christina McAnea, national officer of Unison, said: “Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of workers are out fighting for fair pay and for the NHS. The fact that so many unions representing a range of NHS workers are taking action should send a clear message to the Government. The NHS relies on the good will of its workers, but we know that a demotivated workforce is bad for patients.

“The Government needs to start negotiating with us and reconsider their pay policy.”