Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, has described the Treasury's decision not to consult the independent NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) for 2015/16 as 'extremely disappointing.'
Dr Carter wrote to chief secretary of the treasury Danny Alexander, urging him to reconsider the government's position, saying: 'This is extremely disappointing news and I would be failing in my duty as Chief Executive and General Secretary if I did not express our concerns in the strongest of terms.'
He added: 'Continuing to deny the majority of nursing staff a fair pay rise will only perpetuate and exacerbate [damage to morale and motivation], which is bad for the profession, for the health service and ultimately Britain.'
In a letter to the NHSPRB, Mr Alexander had ruled out a pay increase in 2015/16, saying: 'The NHS trade unions are not prepared to negotiate, although we are still open to new proposals. Therefore, it is our intention to take the same approach in 2015/16. As a result, the NHSPRB will not be asked to make recommendations on a pay award for Agenda for Change staff in the 2015 pay round.'
The decision has been poorly received by the trade unions. Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health, suggested the government was being 'deliberately provocative'. Unite's national officer for health Barrie Brown said: 'It is clear from Danny Alexander's statement that NHS staff pay is set to become a political football.'
A spokesman for the Treasury said: 'NHS staff are dedicated and hardworking. The government would prefer all NHS staff to receive a consolidated one per cent increase. This would be affordable if incremental progression was frozen for one year in 2015/16. If the NHS trade unions were prepared to agree to this then the government would be prepared to reconsider the position and make a consolidated award, as other public sector workforces are receiving. Unfortunately, the NHS trade unions are not prepared to negotiate an affordable alternative.'
Dr Carter wrote: 'To assert that NHS trade unions are not prepared to negotiate an affordable alternative is disingenuous. All the NHS trade unions have consistently said that we would welcome constructive discussion about a fair pay settlement for NHS nursing staff.'
In his letter, Mr Alexander also said that the NHSPRB would be asked to carry out a review of the Agenda for Change pay structure.