Evidence submitted by the government to the Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB), which offers independent advice on pay, said the COVID-19 pandemic had placed 'a huge strain on both public and NHS finances'.
The government argued that the economic outlook for the financial year ahead was uncertain and that 'pay awards must be both fair and affordable', warning that anything higher than a 1% rise for NHS staff would require cuts elsewhere.
Major healthcare unions including the BMA have urged the government to reconsider - warning that denying healthcare staff a fair pay deal would drive doctors, nurses and others to quit the health service after working under intense pressure through the pandemic.
NHS pay deal
A joint letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak from the BMA, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives expressed 'utter dismay' at the recommendation for a 1% pay offer.
The letter said: 'A year ago you promised that the NHS would have “whatever it needed” and this week you talked of, “an honest Budget”. The proposal of a 1% pay offer, not announced from the despatch box but smuggled out quietly in the days afterwards, fails the test of both honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need.'
BMA polling has found that a significant proportion of doctors are considering leaving the NHS once the worst of the pandemic is over - and the letter warned that 'exhausted and distressed' staff coping with a 'huge backlog of treatment' as well as COVID-19 care would undermine morale.
'An offer like this is more than likely going to cause many to simply walk away in despair and this will have a terrible impact on patient care,' the letter warned.
'Health workers are the very people who have cared for more critically ill patients than was ever thought possible. They are working countless hours, many unpaid and at great personal risk because of their duty to the NHS and their fellow citizens.
'Now is when the government should demonstrate that it recognises the contribution of a workforce that has literally kept this country alive for the past year during a global pandemic.'
The 1% cap does not directly affect GPs because the profession will receive a rise in line with plans set out as part of a five-year pay deal that began from 2019.
Following the first wave of the pandemic last year GP leaders said a higher rise for other NHS staff was 'kick in the teeth' for the profession and called for a rethink on the five-year package.