Nurses should not get a basic rise in pay next April, according to the NHS Employers organisation, which is claiming a 1% rise would cost £500m.
Meanwhile, unions have said NHS nurses are suffering stress and low morale due to the combination of government reforms and below-inflation pay rises.
The contrasting views represent the first salvoes in the annual process in which government advisory group the NHS Pay Review Body decides whether to recommend a basic pay rise to ministers based on evidence submitted by employers, unions and the government.
Unions have submitted their evidence to the Pay Review Body claiming that staff have not had a real-terms pay increase since 2006.
But NHS Employers is expected to argue that “pay drift” – due to staff moving up Agenda for Change increments – means 55% of NHS staff will receive basic pay increases, averaging 3.4% in 2013-14. Over the past three years, pay drift for non-medical staff has averaged around 0.9%.
Unions claim the government’s on-going below inflation pay cap of 1% means NHS staff have suffered a real-terms pay cut equivalent to 8-12%. This has come on the back of a two year pay freeze in 2011 and 2012, plus increases in pension contributions.
But NHS Employers says unprecedented financial challenges means a pay increase is unaffordable. In its submission to the Pay Review Body, it is expected to say any pay rise should be linked to future pay reform and negotiations over seven day working.
The idea comes as the organisation is about to begin contract negotiations with both junior doctors and NHS consultants, during which seven day working is expected to form a major part of the discussions.
If the pay review body accepts the recommendation it could mean NHS Employers will seek further changes to the Agenda for Change framework, despite a new deal having only been agreed in February this year.
Christina McAnea, joint chair of the NHS Staff Council and head of health at Unison, said: “This, together with cuts in staffing and services, increased demand and, in England, the huge NHS re-organisation, has led to low morale and high stress levels.
Josie Irwin, from the Royal College of Nursing and joint secretary of the NHS Staff Council, said: “Claiming that fair wages cannot be afforded, while the latest figures show senior managers have enjoyed substantial pay increases, sends the message to frontline staff that their contributions are not valued, which is bad for staff and bad for the NHS.”
Meanwhile, the Unite union wants any pay rise to be “bottom loaded” as a flat cash sum to help the lowest paid members of staff.
Recent data from the NHS Information Centre showed the average annual basic pay in the 12 months to June 2013 for NHS staff was £29,543.
Doctors – excluding locums and GPs – earned £58,813, a 1.4% increase on 2012 and a 5.5% increase on 2009. Consultants saw a 0.5% rise to £87,584, while doctors in training saw pay increase 1% to £26,056.
Qualified nurses, including midwives and health visitors, were paid an average of £30,619, a 0.6% increase on 2012 and a 7.5% increase on 2009.
Senior managers saw the largest percentage increase on 2012 at 1.8%, up to £75,759, and also the largest percentage increase on 2009, at 12.9%.
The Consumer Price Index measure of inflation has varied since 2009 from 1.1-5.2%.
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