HEALTH services across the south could be hit by industrial action after a union agreed to ballot staff for strikes and other forms of industrial action in a bitter dispute with the Government over pay.

Unison's health conference backed an emergency motion calling for the union’s 450,000 NHS members to be asked whether they want to take action over the decision by ministers not to award an across-the-board one per cent wage rise, as recommended by a pay review body.

The union's national officer for health, Christina McAnea, said: ''Our members don't strike often or easily, but this time it does feel that we have no choice.

''We're not asking members to strike for one per cent. We're saying strike for a pay award that starts to redress the value of your pay, strike for a living wage for all, and because a demoralised and demotivated workforce is not good for patients.

''We have a Government in England that seems to be deliberately provoking us into a dispute and is no doubt already preparing for one.''

Ms McAnea said any campaign would be long and would involve a mixture of action, with other unions taking part.

A day of protest will be held on June 5 as part of Unison's campaign for a Yes vote in the strike ballot.

Speaking at the union’s conference in Brighton, Ms McAnea said: ''I don't under-estimate how difficult this will be. I know that, as well as being incredibly angry, many members will be nervous or reluctant to take industrial action.

''But we are leaders in this hall, and we need to take this campaign to members and explain the issues. Let's turn the very real anger into action.''