Unions are turning up the heat on health organisations throughout the Westcountry in a bid to force them to abandon a pay cartel it is feared will drive down wages and conditions.
The 20 boards of the South West Pay Consortium (SWC), which includes hospitals in Taunton, Plymouth and Exeter, are to be individually lobbied by Unison members.
The action has already begun at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT) in Truro, where members gathered yesterday to vent their "disgust" at the proposals.
The SWC, which each trust paid £10,000 to join, was set up to explore ways of meeting unprecedented financial challenges.
However, unions representing every tier of health workers, from doctors to porters, have condemned it as a way of driving down pay and imposing restrictive employment conditions.
Unison regional organiser Christine Dayus said of the protest in Cornwall that staff felt "angry and betrayed".
"Staff were astounded when they discovered that RCHT board had secretly joined the cartel and paid the joining fee of £10,000 which should have been going into patient care," she said.
Ms Dayus said the trust had been through some "difficult times" and there were still challenges ahead which would need staff on board.
However, joining the cartel was not the way to do this, she said.
"They need the trust, dedication and support of their staff now more than ever," she said.
"Joining the pay cartel, whose objective is to cut pay, terms and conditions of staff, is no way behave – indeed it threatens quality patient care. Loyal experienced staff will go elsewhere where they will feel properly rewarded."
A petition was presented to the board which called for them to withdraw from the cartel.
"Staff across the trust are united in their opposition to the action of the cartel and have signed a petition calling for the trust board to withdraw," she said.
Joanne Kaye, Unison South West Regional Secretary, said other trusts could expect a taste of the same. Recently released discussion documents from the SWC emphasise that "absolutely no proposals" have been put forward.
However, the papers do detail a number of "staff cost reduction potential opportunities".
Last week, all members of the SWC staged what they hailed as a "positive and constructive" meeting surrounding the discussion papers.
Chris Bown, consortium steering group chairman, said they were determined to be open about their action. "Trusts continue to seek to engage with staff representatives, including unions, on issues arising from the work of the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium," he said.
"It is vital that staff have the opportunity for their views to be heard, and for employers in turn to listen and to provide information that promotes understanding of why the area of pay, terms and conditions is being looked at as a way of supporting trusts in securing stability in employment, services and finances."