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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Nurses' 'pay hopes to be dashed'
A two-stage pay rise angered health unions
Hopes among nurses that the revamp of government could signal a change of heart over the staging of their pay rise are likely to be dashed.

Unions were optimistic after it emerged pay would be discussed on Monday at a meeting with negotiators, but the BBC understands there will be no U-turn.

It comes as Wales follows the lead of Scotland by paying the 2.5% in full.

Nurses in England are threatening industrial action after getting 1.5% now and an extra 1% in the autumn.

The government in Northern Ireland is still considering what to do.

We are looking for something constructive to come out of the meeting
Gerry O'Dwyer, of the Royal College of Nursing

The government has said it proposed the staged award, the equivalent of a 1.9% rise according to unions, in a bid to control inflation.

But unions have reacted angrily to this saying it would only cost an extra 60m to pay it all upfront and that it went against recommendations of the pay review body.

The Royal College of Nursing are due to ask their members this week if they want to be balloted on industrial action. It is the first time the union has reached this stage in a national dispute.

Meanwhile, Unison has agreed that a ballot of the union's 450,000 NHS members, including nurses, ambulance crews and paramedics, would be held unless the offer was increased.

Rule change

Historically nurses have not been allowed to take industrial action but a rule change in the mid-1990s permitted measures which do not harm patient care.

This means an all-out strike would be highly unlikely but it does allow nurses to take other steps such as refusing to do overtime.

Pay is on the agenda when RCN, Unison and GMB representatives meet officials from NHS Employers, which represents the government, on Monday.

Privately, unions have expressed optimism that a new prime minister in Gordon Brown and new health secretary in Alan Johnson, who has made big play on getting staff on side, could lead to a U-turn.

Ahead of the meeting, Unison national officer for health Mike Jackson said: "We very much welcome these last ditch talks to avert industrial action."

"Living costs have risen far faster than the paltry pay offer on the table and our health workers are underpaid as it is."

And Gerry O'Dwyer, who will be representing the RCN at Wednesday's meeting added: "We are looking for something constructive to come out of the meeting."

But the BBC understands that the government will not be altering its stance despite the recent changes.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The government has been committed to ensuring NHS staff are better paid and is maintaining the normal course of dialogue with the health service trade unions to seek a resolution on a range of issues following the 2007-8 pay award."

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