Doctors' leaders have voiced anger over proposals for pay rises below the rate of inflation for NHS staff.
Pay negotiations for medical staff are ongoing
The British Medical Association accused the government of trying to "claw back" money by suggesting staff should get only 1.5%.
It says pay should go up by 4% to motivate doctors and attract new recruits to the profession.
The Department of Health warned pay rises had to be affordable or patient services funding would suffer.
In March, the government awarded a pay rise of 3% for dentists, 2.5% for nurses and 2.2% for junior doctors.
But consultants are angered by their staged increase, which saw them get a 1% rise on April 1 and a further 1.2% increase in November.
BMA chairman James Johnson, said: "The Department of Health proposal for a pay uplift of only 1.5% is an attempt to claw back the pay increases resulting from the contracts introduced for consultants and GPs in the last few years.
"We don't negotiate contracts in good faith for them to be whittled away over the succeeding years.
"Doctors are working intensively and under pressure to cut waiting times and deliver high-quality services. They deserve a pay rise that reflects their continuing hard work, not one that erodes the value of contracts the government has agreed to."
Balancing the books
Peter Allenson, from the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "Offering health workers an effective pay cut is an insult.
"To recommend a below-inflation rise is particularly baffling."
Karen Jennings, from Unison, said a 1.5% pay increase would work out at less than 2p an hour extra for newly-qualified nurses and paramedics.
"It is also less that half the latest retail price index figure which stands at 3.6%," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said all staff groups had benefited from the improved pay and conditions, adding: "A 1.5% uplift will deliver a 4% increase in average earnings for NHS staff, which compares with the current average across the whole economy.
"The NHS is facing a challenging financial period with the need to change a £512m deficit in 2005/06 into lasting financial balance.
"It is clear that a period of pay restraint is necessary to support the NHS in achieving that lasting balance.
"Pay uplifts must be affordable otherwise funding for patient services will suffer.
"If pay levels are too high, NHS employers may well need to reduce staff posts."
Josie Irwin, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "For the government to say more than 1.5% would mean more job losses and redundancies is an outright threat; you can't deliver care without staff and, ultimately, it's about where the government chooses to spend public money."
Negotiations are ongoing about pay rises for all health workers, with the government and several unions submitting evidence to independent pay review bodies.