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The Observer Most Tory MPs back NHS pay rise, new poll shows

More than half of Conservative MPs polled support across-the-board rise rejected by Jeremy Hunt.

Most Tory MPs believe that NHS staff deserve the 1% pay rise health secretary Jeremy Hunt has rejected, prompting the first strike by health professionals over earnings in 32 years.

A new poll of 100 MPs of all parties found that 71% think the NHS's 1.3 million workers in England should receive the small across-the-board rise that the independent NHS pay review body recommended. They include 58% of the 40 Tories who participated anonymously in the survey, conducted by Dods Polling. Their stance puts them at odds with Hunt, who claims that the NHS cannot afford to give all its staff 1% and that doing so would risk job losses.

The findings come as hospitals finalise plans to cope with a week of industrial action by members of unions representing more than 500,000 staff starting on 13 October, including a four-hour walkout from 7am-11am that day by nurses, midwives and other key staff.

The stoppage and a work-to-rule that staff will pursue for the rest of that week, such as taking scheduled breaks and not working unpaid overtime, will lead to some operations being cancelled.

The poll was commissioned by the Royal College of Midwives, whose members will take the first industrial action in its 133-year history when they join the 13 October walkout. "That so many Conservative MPs are in favour of the pay award that has been rejected should sound alarm bells at the highest level," said Cathy Warwick, the RCM's chief executive.

Julia Manning, chief executive of the 20/20 health thinktank, said Hunt was unlikely to do a U-turn on his decision, which has caused deep anger among NHS staff. Only some will receive the 1%. "An NHS strike is rare, but even one lasting four hours risks patient safety. This could be disastrous for some mums about to give birth," Manning added.

But the royal college has pledged that the safety of women and babies will not be compromised and that any of them needing care during the stoppage will receive it.

A new ComRes poll of public opinion in the 40 most marginal Conservative/Labour seats, also commissioned by the royal college, found that 83% of people there think all NHS staff should get the 1%.

The Department of Health insisted that its plan would give all NHS staff "at least 1% additional pay this year and at least a further 1% next year", though that is due to the fact that about half of staff receive incremental pay awards, which the coalition regards as unfair and is trying to phase out.