Members of trade union Unite yesterday voted in favour of strike action over the government's three-year NHS pay deal.

Fifty-three per cent of those polled were in favour of a strike, compared with 45 per cent against. Seventy-six per cent of members backed industrial action short of a strike.

Unite's health sector national industrial committee is to meet tomorrow to decide on the form of the action.

Unite said action would start before Christmas, but that the welfare of patients and clients would be paramount.

Joint general secretary Derek Simpson said: "The government's stated aim of controlling inflation with public sector pay restraint was just wrong before. After the economic meltdown, it is completely ludicrous.

"Pay cuts will only make recession longer and deeper. It's time for the government to reconsider its policy on NHS pay."

Unite's national officer for health David Fleming said: "The stand that our members have taken against the derisory three-year pay deal imposed by ministers has been vindicated."

The union has criticised the three-year deal worth 7.99 per cent in total as inadequate in the context of rising inflation.