The new general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing will tell its annual congress next week that he will support strike action if it is demanded by the membership.

Peter Carter said he will address the 'anger and frustration of nurses' over the government's below-inflation pay award. He said: 'I will be telling members that the RCN stands shoulder to shoulder with them on this issue and that the college's actions on this will be guided by them - as it should be.'

Politicians have not been invited to this year's congress, to be held from Sunday in Harrogate, following the heckles and slow handclaps that greeted health secretary Patricia Hewitt's claim at last year's event that the NHS had enjoyed its 'best year ever'.

'The overall impression we are getting from nurses is that there is a real feeling of frustration and a mood of despondency that all their hard work has been rewarded by what is in real terms a pay cut,' he said.