Three health unions have announced they are going to ballot their members for strike action over NHS pay.

Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives will ballot their members in England in response to the government’s decision to reject the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation to increase staff pay by 1 per cent.

Instead, the government imposed a two year deal in which staff who receive incremental pay awards get not further rises.

Unison will ballot its 300,000 members in England between 28 August and 18 September.

The ballot will cover health workers including nurses, therapists, porters, paramedics, medical secretaries, cooks, cleaners and healthcare assistants.

A yes vote could lead to stoppages in early October, followed by further strikes and action short of a strike over the autumn and winter.

Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said: “Balloting for strike action is not an easy decision, especially in the NHS. But this government is showing complete contempt for NHS workers.

“We hope to work closely with the other health unions to plan and coordinate action. It is not too late, however, for Jeremy Hunt to agree to further talks without pre-conditions to settle the dispute.”

The RCM has decided to ballot its 26,000 members in England on industrial action for the first time in its history.

Members will be balloted in September, with potential industrial action also expected to take place in October.

The college said it expected this would take the form of a short stoppage followed by action short of a strike.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “This is a step that our board has not taken lightly, hardworking midwives are deeply concerned that the independent pay review body is being ignored and the NHS pay structure threatened.

“Midwives are at the end of their tether. They have already accepted long term pay restraint and changes to their pension and terms and conditions. Meanwhile, they are working harder and harder to deliver high quality care with continuing shortages of midwives and daily pressures on services.”

Unite is balloting its 88,000 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The union’s head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Industrial action will be carefully calibrated to balance the real and deep anger that our members feel about their falling incomes, with concern for patient care which is paramount for the health professionals we represent.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know that midwives across the country are working hard. That’s why they should receive at least 1 per cent additional pay this year and next.

“Since May 2010 there are 1,700 more midwives helping expectant mothers and we want to protect these increases. We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases without risking frontline jobs.

“We are disappointed that unions are balloting for industrial action. There is still time for the unions to put patients first and accept our offer to come back to the negotiating table.”