South West NHS trusts proposing to introduce regional pay and conditions have been accused of being "short-sighted" and making plans to "undermine the national ethos of the NHS".
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the 20 trusts in the region which plan to fix the pay, terms and conditions of health workers in the South West would also waste resources and could make it harder for some areas to recruit high-quality staff. Proposals put forward include cutting pay and increasing hours.
In a new paper, the BMA describes the measures as "short-sighted", saying they could lead to demoralised staff and an increase in regional variations in quality of care.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of council at the BMA, said: "If this initiative is allowed to go ahead, other regions are likely to follow suit, taking us further away from a truly national health service. We do not want to see skills drain away from certain areas of the country, particularly in more remote regions.
"This is a distraction from serious attempts to address the massive financial challenges facing the NHS.
"Instead of wasting resources on short-term measures for which there is no evidence, and that will only serve to demoralise staff, we should focus on ways to genuinely improve efficiency and quality."
The 20 organisations to have signed up include hospitals in Exeter, Truro and Plymouth.
The intervention follows last week's Cabinet reshuffle, which saw Health Secretary Andrew Lansley sacked to make way for Jeremy Hunt, the former Culture Secretary.
Mr Lansley was among the keenest proponents of local pay in Government, which is being considered across the public sector by an independent body.
Jamie Reed, Labour's Shadow Health Minister, said: "The BMA is right to warn against these proposals.
"Ministers have lost control of NHS finances and we are seeing an increasingly crude and random approach to reducing costs. Nearly 5,000 nursing jobs have been lost since the election and the South West pay cartel is yet another sign of the chaos engulfing the NHS.
"Regional pay will bring instability to the health service and make it harder to bring the best staff to the more deprived areas of the country where the health challenge is often greatest.
"Moves to undermine national pay arrangements and whittle away terms and conditions are a kick in the teeth for staff who are desperately trying to hold things together.
"Jeremy Hunt needs to break his silence on the NHS and let staff know where he stands on regional pay. If he fails to act, it will be a clear signal that he is following through his call for the 'de-nationalisation' of the NHS."
Health trusts in the region have said the consortium has been established in response to the "serious financial and operational challenges" facing the NHS. The Government is looking to reform its Agenda for Change programme – which sets pay bands for across the country for NHS staff excluding doctors, dentists and some senior managers – so that it includes more "flexibility" to set pay and conditions to reflect the local market.