The proposed 3-year pay deal on offer by the NHS pay review body has become the focus of controversy, with the UK's largest trades union Unite (formerly Amicus) recommending its members reject the offer negotiated by NHS Employers, an offshoot of the NHS Confederation.

However, NHS chief executive David Nicholson CBE has suggested that the 2008-9 component of the deal, worth in total 7.99 % over the next three years, could be staged unless trades unions accept the deal.

Mr Nicholson’s letter says: "If the proposed agreement is not accepted by union members, the government reserves the right to review its response to the NHS pay review body recommendations and decide whether to accept, stage or abate them in the context of a one-year settlement."

The deal has already been agreed between NHS Employers, the two largest NHS trade unions (Unison and RCN) and the Department of Health for England, and is being considered by the other health departments. It is subject to consideration by all trade unions covered by the Agenda For Change agreement.

Disunity over the deal
Unite, whose NHS committee represents over 100,000 healthcare members including the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, the Mental Health Nurses’ Association, the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, the Society of Sexual Health Advisers, and the Medical Practitioners’ Union, remain unimpressed.

Unite officer Peter Allenson said: "This three year pay deal is not sufficient for us to be able to recommend acceptance to our members. We have reservations that the re-negotiation clause, which should come into effect in situations of rising inflation, is not strong enough and that in a climate of economic insecurity, it is not at a level sufficient to meet our members needs."

Other unions which joined Unite in comdemning the deal included the Royal College of Midwives, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the Society of Radiographers, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the British Orthoptic Society, the British Dietetic Association, and the Federation of Clinical Scientists.

Unite head of health Kevin Coyne said: "David Nicholson's letter is a clear threat to NHS staff to accept a below inflation three-year pay deal or face the consequences”.

The rate of inflation over the next three years is not yet known.

By Andy Cowper