Senior managers are to be offered significantly lower pay rises than nurses, NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands has told trusts and health authorities.

Unison responded furiously to a letter from Sir Alan this week, pointing out that senior managers had received less than other NHS staff groups for most of the past nine years.

'Lower increases will do nothing to improve morale, particularly when people feel threatened by arbitrary management cost cuts,' said national officer Alastair Henderson.

Pay ranges for senior managers on national terms and conditions were frozen at 1995 levels last year and health secretary Frank Dobson made it clear that increases for individual managers should be kept within a 2.7 per cent limit.

Sir Alan's letter to trust and HA chief executives says: 'The government does not expect to see senior managers being awarded increases out of line with the rest of the public service.'

The award for nurses and professions allied to medicine has been clearly signalled as a 'special case' which 'should not be seen as a yardstick for other NHS staff'.

Further guidance on senior managers' pay will follow when the pay round for non-review body staff has been completed.

Insiders believe the letter means senior managers are unlikely to be offered more than 2.5 per cent, compared with 4.7 per cent for most nurses and 12 per cent for newly qualified nurses.

The government is attempting to keep the overall pay bill increase to around 4 per cent this year.

NHS Confederation human resources chair Andrew Foster said many senior managers had not been given the rises they were entitled to last year, because of the freeze on pay scales. 'That was tolerated because it was in the context of other staff having their pay awards staged,' he said.

'If pay was frozen again this year, some managers would start to move jobs as the only way they could get a pay rise.'

Sir Alan's letter says the£100m from the NHS modernisation fund to help meet pay awards will be allocated to HAs on a pro rata basis. Detailed allocations will be announced shortly and no new activity targets will be attached.

But Sir Alan's letter warns that the 'large increases in funding' following the comprehensive spending review will 'require very tight management and across the board efficiency improvements'.

If those requirements are met, the 6.5 per cent growth in HA allocations, together with the£100m from the modernisation fund, will enable the service to meet the pay awards and take forward service modernisation targets.

Mr Henderson said the expected low offer to senior managers made it essential that they were included in the new NHS pay system 'and not left out on a limb because they are easy to target for savings'.

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