Labour will deliver a pay rise to NHS staff if it wins the General Election, scrapping the existing cap on salaries as part of a three-point pledge for the health service.
NHS pay increases are currently subject to a 1% cap that has kept rises below the rate of inflation for seven consecutive years and is due to continue until 2020.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth will commit Labour to end the cap, introduce legislation to make “safe staffing” levels a matter of law and restore funding to students taking health-related degrees.
In a speech to the UNISON Health Conference in Liverpool he will say: “NHS staff are the very pride of Britain. Yet they are ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid by this Tory government.
“Not anymore. Enough is enough.
“NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives. Cuts to pay and training mean hard working staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started.
“Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas.
“What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety. Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standard which England’s patients expect.”
Speaking to Sky News ahead of his address to delegates, Mr Ashworth said Theresa May could not continue her “shameful” attitude of “burying her head in the sand” and let the NHS get worse and worse.
The announcement comes amid evidence of a looming recruitment crisis and rising anger among NHS staff at constrained pay.
The latest 1% pay award, announced last month, was criticised by health unions and prompted the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) to ballot its members on whether they want to take strike action.
The chief executive of NHS England Simon Steven also distanced himself from the pay award, telling Sky News last month: “NHS staff of course deserve to be looked after, but questions of pay are not questions the NHS itself can decide.”
Labour’s announcement, the first of a number of health policies that will be included in its manifesto, was welcomed by health unions.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: “For too long, nursing staff have been undervalued and underpaid.
“It’s a political choice to increase investment in health and social care and we call on all political parties to go further and commit to the long-term funding that patients and services need.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Lifting the 1% pay cap would give health employees a long overdue pay rise – and show them just how much they’re valued.”
The Conservatives countered that Labour’s economic policies would endanger all public services including the NHS.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Brexit would affect the NHS and it was “absolutely critical for our public services” to have a “strong leader” to get the best deal from the EU so there was more money for the health service.
In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt refused to be drawn on whether funding pledges for the NHS would be included in the Conservative manifesto.
He also refused to say whether inheritance tax would be used to pay for extra funding for social care but promised to “stop ducking” the issue and suggested measures would be contained in the manifesto.
Health policy will be a key battleground in the campaign after a hugely testing winter that saw the NHS struggle to meet rising demand and the impact of an ageing population.
There is a growing consensus among practitioners, health economists and some politicians that the current NHS structure is unsustainable without more funding or cuts to provision.
Last month Mr Stevens admitted that some targets including for four hour A&E waiting times will not be met on schedule because of financial constraints.
Mrs May has said she has given the NHS all the money it asked for, a claim Mr Stevens said was “stretching it”.