Nurses have described Boris Johnson as "out-of-touch" after he claimed the government was looking after their wellbeing despite cutting their wages in real terms.
The Royal College of Nursing accused Mr Johnson of being "blase" after he told reporters the government was on a recruitment drive.
But sector leaders warned that there would be no way the government could keep additional nurses in the profession if it kept running down their pay and conditions.
Nursing groups and managers have warned that many nurses could quit and do something else if the government sticks with its approach.
The government had indicated that it is minded to increase the pay of nurses and other healthcare staff pay by just 1 per cent – effectively a cut because it is below inflation.
The suggestion has provoked anger from across the NHS, with unions describing it as a "kick in the teeth" and "pitiful" after workers put their lives on the line during the pandemic.
Ministers say other public sector worker are getting an even worse deal.
Mr Johnson told reporters at the press conference : "I would stress first of all the gratitude that I think everybody feels towards the nursing profession and all health and social care workers.
"One of the most important things that nurses tell me they want to see is more nurses to help them on the wards, to help them cope with the pandemic and everything else.
"There are 10,000 more now this year than there were last year and that's a good thing. There's also a big increase in recruitment, I think it's up something like 36 per cent and I understand of course that the whole sector has been under massive pressure, and that's why we are investing colossally on top of the £140bn annually that we give to the NHS an extra £62bn to help boost the NHS and above all to help boost that recruitment drive that I think is really crucial for the wellbeing of nurses across the country, in addition to the 12.8 per cent pay increase that they got in the most recent round. So that's where we are on that."
But Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The prime minister is sounding increasingly out of touch with the impact of his own proposal.
“Today’s comments will appear blase to nursing staff who have been told they’re worth only an extra £3.50 after a decade of wage losses in the middle of a pandemic.
“More nursing staff benefits patients. And the PM will only get - and keep - the extra staff our patients need by also committing to a significant pay rise. Nursing has been undervalued for too long and the public has now has joined us in calling time on this."
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