The Royal College of Nursing is “prepared to take the government on” in its plans to impose regional pay in the NHS, according to the college’s chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter.

At a fringe meeting at the RCN Congress in Harrogate yesterday Mr Carter told nurses the idea of bringing in regional pay was “seriously flawed”.

He said the idea had been tried in Sweden where over an eight-year period it led to a demoralised workforce and turned into a “shambles”.

This was not what the NHS needed to go through, he told nurses.

On Wednesday 99 per cent of delegates voted in favour of fighting the introduction of localised pay bargaining, which the government wants to see across the public sector.

Mr Carter said: “I’m not talking about industrial action at the moment, I am just not in that mindset  but we are determined to work with the other unions to be united on this.

“We really are prepared to take the government on.”

But in a reference to the RCN’s disappointing turnout of just 16 per cent on its pension ballot, the RCN chief executive said: “We have to find a way of mobilising the workforce. This is months away, maybe even a year but we have got to be strong, we have got to brave and go for this.”

The Department of Health has suggested new higher cost zones could be built into the existing Agenda for Change framework to allow more regional pay.

This would see a “prolonged period of constrained pay” to create what the DH has described as “headroom” for the new zones.

The pay review body has yet to make final recommendations.