Sir: I am afraid it is the Independent and not the Government which has adopted a logically untenable position with regard to local pay for nurses and midwives ("There may be trouble ahead...", 22 March). The nub of your argument is that the retention of the independent pay review bodies is incompatible with local pay. But, of course, it was the review bodies themselves - for doctors as well as nurses and midwives - that have set the framework for local pay.
The Government is not prepared to support the Independent's call for the abolition of the pay review bodies. Such a move is neither necessary nor desirable. The review bodies have served both staff and the NHS well. They continue to do so in their constructive attitude towards local pay. I can think of no act more likely to provoke a "summer of discontent", which, as you say, we are all anxious to avoid.
The review bodies expect both sides to make progress through local pay negotiation. Trusts have begun well in responding to this invitation. A significant proportion have already indicated their intention to make local pay offers to their nursing staff. The majority of offers are around 3 per cent, as the review body anticipated.
Because their preference is for high-profile national campaigning, the nursing unions have instructed their branches not to respond to these approaches. That too is an unjustifiable position. I hope that the nurses will recognise that it is local negotiation, not national lobbying, that will achieve fair pay increases which reflect their valuable contribution to the NHS.
We shall also then be making real progress towards local pay. This is a vital part of achieving a more efficient and responsive health service, objectives that both the Government and the Independent want.
The Minister for Health
Department of Health