In March the chancellor Gordon Brown announced that nurses will receive a staged 2.5 per cent pay rise. But with the consumer price measure of inflation (CPI) at 2.7 per cent and the retail price measure of inflation (RPI) at four per cent, unions have said the deal is, in real terms, a pay cut.
At prime minister's questions this afternoon, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said that the row over nurses' pay has made this a "bleak and sombre day".
Remaining firm on staging pay, Mr Blair said it was necessary for the wider economy.
"I entirely understand why staging awards is never popular but it is in this instance necessary," he said.
"In order to make sure that we deal with the issues overall of pay in the economy it is important we stage the awards."
And when challenged that patients as well as healthcare workers have lost faith in the NHS, the prime minister maintained that "the truth is the patient is getting a better deal…because of the investment and reform we have put in".
Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, told congress this week that there will be an urgent push to meet with the chancellor and health secretary Patricia Hewitt to discuss the issue of pay.
"We will be telling them that this is not a game, it's serious, and they need to take note now," he said.
"We've reached our limit - this far and no further. So, from today, we are drawing a line in the sand."
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