Unite has condemned what it calls a threat by NHS chief executive David Nicholson to stage the 2008-09 NHS pay award if the unions do not back a three-year pay deal worth 7.999 per cent.

In a letter, Mr Nicholson says: 'If the proposed agreement is not accepted by union members, the government reserves the right to review its response to the NHS pay review body recommendations and decide whether to accept, stage or abate them in the context of a one-year settlement.'

Unite head of health Kevin Coyne said: "David Nicholson's letter is a clear threat to NHS staff to accept a below inflation three-year pay deal or face the consequences."