HOSPITAL staff in Cornwall could be forced to take a pay cut and lose benefits under plans drawn up by a consortium of health bosses.
It has emerged that NHS trusts in the South West have joined forces in a bid to reduce costs.
The proposals include pay cuts of up to 5 per cent, cutting overtime increases for working nights, weekends and bank holidays and reducing holiday entitlement.
Critics said the proposals would breach national pay scales. A spokesman for public service union Unison said: "We've seen internal documents which provide evidence that this South West pay cartel has been formed to achieve a collective breakaway from Agenda for Change national terms and conditions.
"The aims of the cartel are to significantly reduce each trust's pay bill by directly cutting pay and conditions by up to 15 per cent."
It has been suggested staff would be offered performance-related rewards to cushion the blow.
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust said it had "agreed to work with other organisations in the South West to explore different ways of rewarding and incentivising staff that will lead to better healthcare services.
"No proposals have yet been put forward but the RCHT board is interested in at least exploring the options available.
"It is too early to say what the outcomes or recommendations will be but regular information will be provided to staff and staffside representatives about the Consortium meetings.
Clearly no action will be taken without full engagement with staff," it said.
Graham Webster, from the campaign group Health Watch, said: "We already have trouble recruiting doctors for the casualty service at West Cornwall Hospital. We already can't fill vacancies for physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
"Those people will want to go where the money is and that, unfortunately, is not going to be here."
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the trusts' move was "a clear sign of the chaos engulfing the NHS" and made "in open defiance of a promise by the Deputy Prime Minister to prevent regional pay".