One of the largest healthcare unions Unison is to ballot its 460,000 health members over plans to take industrial action – including strike action – following the government’s imposed pay deal.

An emergency motion at the union’s annual healthcare conference was overwhelmingly supported. This means the union can now ballot members over whether they support a campaign of action.

The ballot will seek permission to take strike action and industrial action short of a strike.

It comes after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected proposals for a 1 per cent pay rise for all NHS staff. Instead, the government imposed a deal which will see those eligible for incremental increases receiving no cost of living rise while those at the top of their pay bands will receive only 1 per cent but this will not be permanent or pensionable.

Speaking to the conference Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said there would be a national protest day on June 5.

She said: “We face a government in England deliberately provoking us into a dispute”, adding: “This time it feels that we have no choice.”

Yesterday the union’s General Secretary Dave Prentis called on the Royal College of Nusing and other health unions to “stand shoulder to shoulder” in opposing the government’s pay deal.

Responding to the vote Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers said he understood the frustration staff and trade unions felt over the pay announcement but added employers faced the “stark choice” over increased pay or job losses.

He said: “The decision to ballot for industrial action at a union conference is no surprise. They will want to show their displeasure but my simple, honest ask is that they don’t take that displeasure and frustration out on patients. People accessing healthcare are often at their most vulnerable and the very prospect of strikes when they should be receiving care will be deeply distressing for many.

“I would urge unions to engage with us in meaningful discussions about how to come out of a period of pay restraint in sensible way. Then we can explore solutions affecting the lowest paid and plan for the longer term – not for short term disruption which will affect those in need.”

Jeremy Hunt has offered to give staff a permanent 1 per cent pay rise over the next two years if the unions agree to a freeze on incremental pay in 2015-16.

The Department of Health has said giving staff a pay rise on top of increments would cost the equivalent of paying for 10,000 full time front line staff.

NHS Employers has estimated the cost of the government’s imposed deal to the NHS will add around £150m in cost pressure to the service.