NURSES were poised to tear up their long-standing no-strike rule after

Ministers yesterday refused to back down on controversial local pay


Junior Health Minister Baroness Cumberlege was booed and heckled by

members of the Royal College of Nursing meeting in Harrogate for their

annual congress, when she claimed that local pay bargaining was here to


However, the settlement appears likely to set off industrial action by

some 900,000 NHS workers.

Furious delegates shouted ''rubbish'' as the baroness, a former

vice-president of the RCN, repeated Government claims that nurses were

not being short-changed. She was jeered when she said: ''I do believe

the future is in local pay -- that is the way forward.''

She particularly infuriated RCN members by saying that in Derby, where

local pay has been introduced, nurses have had offers of between 3% and

9%. She was heckled repeatedly during a 45-minute question and answer


This was in stark contrast to fellow panel member Christine Hancock,

the RCN's general secretary, who was greeted with loud cheers and


Around a dozen trusts have made offers of 1% and many have made offers

conditional on improving sickness absence rates or scrapping bank

holiday payments.

The mood of the conference was such that delegates appear certain to

vote today to scrap the RCN's traditional no-strike rule and replace it

with one allowing limited action.

This would then go to a ballot next month which would require a

two-thirds majority for the rule change to be endorsed. There would then

require to be a legal industrial action ballot before action could be


The scale of the hostility displayed the nurses' anger at not

receiving a 3% across-the-board national pay rise and being asked to

accept local bargaining to stand any chance of improving on a

''miserly'' 1% national offer. Even then, in many cases efficiency

''strings'' are being demanded by NHS trusts.

Consultations among the 440,000 Unison members employed in the NHS,

including 240,000 nurses, end tomorrow and are understood to be running

heavily in favour of industrial action in protest at broadly similar 1%

central offers. Industrial action ballots are likely to be set in train


Baroness Cumberlege admitted that some trusts might not be able to

offer 3% this year, if they were in financial difficulties. But she

claimed it was up to nurses to negotiate -- adding that it was not in

trusts' interests to have demoralised staff.

Earlier yesterday, in her presidential address to the RCN congress,

Mrs Betty Kershaw warned Ministers involved in the nurses' pay battle:

''You've seen nothing yet,'' and spoke of the the ''deep sense of

outrage'' felt by nurses over the ''mismanagement'' of their pay award.

This had been fuelled by the knowledge that nurses, more than any

other health workers, had helped improve health service productivity and

raised standards of care, she claimed.

In a rousing speech before 2000 delegates, she accused the Government

of a serious error of judgment.

''By ignoring the evidence, by ignoring the anger of nurses, and by

underestimating the support of the public for nurses, the Government

have made a very grave mistake,'' she declared.

Nurses had been dealt a body blow but had got off the floor to fight

for a fair deal, Mrs Kershaw said. If they failed to win 3%, it would be

the Government that would not recover.

She ended with a defiant message for the Prime Minister, Health

Secretary Virginia Bottomley, and Health Minister Gerry Malone.

''We will fight for nursing and for the health services of this

country, to ensure that our campaign marks a turning point for nursing,

and to use the tremendous support we have received to create a better

future. We will fight to win this battle and move on to win the war.''

Pay gulf11