Dan Poulter has accused health unions of being “deliberately disingenuous” in local pay negotiations for issuing a negotiating guide that breaks with the “spirit” of a previous deal.

The health minister said unions had agreed with government in 2013 that the link between performance and pay should be strengthened.

Union guidance issued to local negotiators, had however claimed that “the principle of pay progression” was that staff would “automatically progress” through pay bands.

Although the guidance does later set out how increments maybe witheld on performance grounds, Dr Poulter said it was “not in the spirit of the [2013] agreement]”.

“To call [the negotiating guides] obfuscation would be unfair” he added. “They are deliberately disingenuous and not in the spirit of the agreement in which unions recognised that increments needed some reform.

“The national agreement was that this should be discussed locally and not be about time served. They are not acting within the spirit of that agreement.”

Dr Poulter’s accusation comes during an increasingly acrimonious pay dispute.

The largest healthcare union, Unison, is to ballot its 460,000 health members over possible industrial action after the government rejected a 1 per cent pay rise for all NHS staff in March. Other unions are also considering action.

Dr Poulter justified the government’s decision on pay, claiming that an across the board 1 per cent pay rises in addition to incremental pay progressions would add around £2.7bn to the NHS budget over two years.

“Simply going into the comfort zone of balloting for industrial action is doing a massive disservice to patients.

“We don’t respond to threats and have to take a responsible sustainable view of what’s in the best interest of patients and that’s what we will continue to do.”

Sara Gorton, deputy head of health, at Unison said Dr Poullter was living in “a parallel universe”.

“If he believes industrial action is ‘going into the comfort zone’ for nurses and other staff.

“It should be an indication of just how unfair health staff feel the recently announced pay outcome is, that they are willing to consider challenging it.”