By Jo Dillon Political Correspondent
Nurses are to demand extra pay totalling billions of pounds, threatening a serious dispute with the Government.
The nursing unions are determined that a significant section of the Budget cash for health should go on across-the-board pay. Some want a 10 per cent rise towards bringing them into line with teachers and the police.
The whole package could cost billions on top of an expected 3 or 3.5 per cent increase, eating into the money from tax rises that the Government has gambled on improving the health service.
The Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, warns that although he supports a "fair" pay deal coupled with reform of the nurses' pay and promotion structure, there will have to be "discipline" on pay. The two sides will thrash out the deal this summer.
John Humphreys, acting director of the Royal College of Nursing, said pay discussions would be "pretty tough". "We don't know what funding has been made available but clearly because of the numbers of staff we represent it is going to cost. But we think it is a good investment.
"Nurses are certainly in no mood to accept a poor pay deal. They want to see the colour of the Government's money and they want us to get on and pull this deal together."
There is, as yet, no threat of industrial action. But nurses are setting up a fighting fund to tide them over in case they are forced to go on strike.
The Government argues that they have improved nurses' pay since 1997 and will continue to do so.
But a source said: "In the past there has always been an attitude that says let's pay our Florence Nightingales properly. I think the mood is slightly different now. There have been some substantial increases in nurses' pay and there is not the level of …