Royal College of Nursing members attacked the high salary of general secretary Christine Hancock and other senior staff at their annual general meeting last week.

The annual report showed that 88 staff earn salaries between£40,000 and£90,000 a year, well in excess of most nurses' earnings.

Portsmouth steward Charles Cowan said: 'My concern is that if these pay rises carry on at the rate they are going at the moment then in 10 years' time Christine Hancock will be on£143,000. That's obscene. What about the secretaries and cleaners who earn less than£10,000 a year - why are they not in the annual report?'

Treasurer Jim McAllister said the RCN had to attract professionals who command high salaries.

'Not all our staff are nurses - we employ lawyers and administrative staff so the pay rise has to reflect that as well, ' he said.

The prospect of strike action in protest at the 3 per cent pay offer to non-pay review body staff has receded after two groups of MSF members - laboratory scientists and technical and technological staff - decided not to proceed with a ballot. But two other groups of MSF members are still considering their next step.

Unison, which has a larger number of affected staff, still plans a ballot on the issue next month.