A Labour Party motion calling on the government to stop the spread of regional pay in the NHS has been defeated in the House of Commons.
Labour, which claimed the NHS was at risk of being fragmented through regional pay, lost the vote by 292 votes to 226.
The debate saw many MPs criticise 20 NHS trusts in the South West, which are seeking to break away from the national Agenda for Change pay framework.
But ministers and Conservative MPs attacked Labour for opportunism and blamed the previous government for giving the freedom to hospitals to negotiate their own local settlements.
During an earlier debate on the South West Consortium, health minister Anna Soubry appeared to give the group her backing, saying she thought the trusts were taking a “sensible and mature” approach to the issues.
But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham criticised the government for attacking the “national” in National Health Service and introducing regional pay “by the back door.”
He said: “National pay is part of the glue of a National Health Service, part of what holds it together, and in turn the NHS is part of what holds our country together.
“A one nation service bridging the social and economic divides of our country, uniting east and west, north and south. The N in NHS should be cherished, but instead it is coming under ideological attack,” he said.
But health secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back saying: “We are not proposing an end to national collective bargaining, we are not proposing the abolition of national pay scales, current pay scales will not be cut.
“What we are doing is supporting the changes brought in by the last Labour Government to ensure there is sensible flexibility in pay across the whole country.”
Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox described the introduction of regional pay in the NHS as a “retrograde step” but accused the Labour Party of being opportunistic and of trying to “wash his hands” of the decision by Labour to grant freedoms to foundation trusts.
He said Mr Burnham had “opened the door” to what was happening in the NHS.
However, Labour’s Barbara Keeley said there was no reason why a nurse in Salford should be paid differently to one in another part of the country.
Labour’s Jamie Reed MP said Jeremy Hunt’s support for regional pay “revealed today at the dispatch box shows his determination to fragment the NHS”.
He added: “It is barely credible that the government should use the South West as a laboratory to experiment with regional pay.”
Closing the debate junior health minister, Dr Dan Poulter said the government first knew of the South West Consortium when it’s project documents were first leaked in May.
“We did not encourage the consortium in anyway and they have used the freedoms given to them by the previous Labour government.”
He accused Labour of trying to re-write history adding: “It is the government’s stated position to support national pay agreements where they remain fit for purpose.”
Unions are continuing to negotiate with NHS Employers on a national deal to reduce terms and conditions and a draft agreement, previously reported by Nursing Times, has been prepared and could form the basis of a final deal.
A meeting of the NHS Staff Council Executive is set to take place on Friday.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is encouraging that this issue is being given the attention it deserves by MPs and it shows that many share our concern that regional pay is little more than an attack on the hard work of nurses.
“Punishing our members by reducing the pay of those that live and work in a less affluent area is grossly unfair and will cause a skills drain. The resulting impact on patient care will be severe.
“We applaud the MPs of all parties who are standing with us to oppose this move. It is very clear that the arguments against regional pay are now coming from all sides.”