Cuts-happy Health Secretary Andrew Lansley sparked a new storm by breezily waving through a nasty attack on NHS workers in south-west England today.
Mr Lansley refused to block an attempt by a consortium of 19 NHS trusts to impose regional pay cuts and worse working conditions across the south-west.
Health union Unison regional manager Lisa Youlton said the minister's stance would fuel "huge anger" across the region.
Some NHS workers could face cuts of up to 15 per cent in take-home pay as a result of attacks on overtime and shift payments, she warned.
Ms Youlton reported a massive response to the union's campaign against regional pay cuts with "shocked" local residents joining union members in signing petitions.
Mr Lansley failed a Commons challenge from Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham on Tuesday night.
Mr Burnham jumped up to the despatch box and declared: "I have a simple question for the Secretary of State. Is he overruling the south-west consortium?"
"No," replied the minister.
Mr Lansley had the gall to claim that the south-west consortium had "made no such proposal" to reduce pay.
And the slippery minister went on to make a rambling statement that "no proposal for the reduction of pay or the dismissal and re-engagement of staff is, in my view, desirable or necessary."
Only seconds earlier he had cheerfully signalled backing for south-west NHS bosses in seeking "local pay flexibilities" within the national pay framework.
Mr Burnham accused the 19 south-west NHS trusts of seeking to enforce a regional pay cut of 5 per cent, longer shifts and reduced holidays, plus an attack on overtime payments for nights, weekends and bank holidays.
Pledging Labour to repeal the government's Health and Social Care Bill "in its entirety," Mr Burnham warned that it was "an attack on the N in the NHS," and was designed to break up national pay standards.
Former Labour health minister Frank Dobson commented: "I do not think that any of the Lib Dem or Tory candidates in the south-west put in their leaflets that we admire you people in the NHS so much that we intend to reduce your pay.
"None of them said we admire you so much that we are going to reduce your entitlement to leave."
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