The government should consider banning strikes by NHS workers as unions prepare to take action against spending cuts, an employers group has suggested.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said a number of “high stakes” options were open to ministers to try to avoid industrial action by NHS staff.

Improving communication and consultation was suggested, as well as building leadership and management skills, but the CIPD said a ban on strikes should be considered to protect services if there was an upsurge in industrial unrest.

Public sector union leaders have warned of action against the government’s clampdown on public spending and the issue will dominate this year’s TUC Congress in Manchester next month.

Mike Emmott, the CIPD’s employee relations adviser, said: “It is incumbent on the government to consider the policy options open to it for reducing the risk of disruptive and damaging industrial action by public service employees, such as banning strike action of those involved in the delivery of essential services. If the government was forced to go down this route it would be a sign of its failure to make the case for change to public sector employees.

“Government must strive to avoid this situation at all costs as it would mean any attempt at trying to lead though consensus had failed. For the unions too, the stakes are high - if they overplay their hand and take industrial action on issues where they don’t have public sympathy they will create conditions which make it more likely that the government will implement one of the measures outlined in this paper, aimed at blunting the threat of strike action.

A TUC spokesman said: “Destroying the jobs of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers will put the fragile economic recovery at risk. Of course unions will defend their members’ livelihoods.

“The government would do better to invest in jobs and growth than pay attention to the CIPD’s unworkable proposals on industrial action law.”