comment Those who work alongside doctors and nurses deserve a better pay deal

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Michael Portillo may have left it a touch late to discover that hospital porters play a central part in health service life for very little financial reward. But after writing about his experiences on the wards in the Mail on Sunday, he may now wish to make practical use of his new-found knowledge.

Perhaps, for a start, the former chief secretary to the Treasury could get together with his New Labour successor, Alan Milburn, to discuss how money might be found to achieve a reasonable pay award for non-review body staff. Who knows, his efforts might avert a strike this winter (news, pages 4-5), or even help to build a new consensus about the need to increase taxes in order to fund public services properly.

The Department of Health's favourable comparison of the 3 per cent on offer to non-review body staff with the 1.3 per cent headline rate of inflation is, to say the least, disingenuous, and the offer of jam tomorrow in the shape of a new pay system is one that many low-paid staff might reasonably regard with scepticism.

For all the complaints raised by doctors and nurses, the review body system has served them relatively well in the past two decades. The people they work alongside also deserve to have their contribution fairly rewarded - even if it upsets the government's careful calculations about resource allocation.