Nursing unions have criticised a plan to spend an extra £50m to tackle staff shortages - because no new pay rises have been promised.

Health minister Alan Milburn yesterday unveiled the new scheme to deal with crippling nursing shortages - but none of the promised millions will be used to boost pay.

As reported in later editions of yesterday's Oxford Mail, Mr Milburn hopes the cash injection will create extra training places, entice back nurses who quit the profession, improve working conditions and offer them broader career oppor- tunities.

But Unison spokesman Steve Akers said: "We welcome these measures but they are tinkering at the edges of the recruitment crisis which here in Oxford, and all over the country, is at fever pitch.

"The Government must ensure that the pay of health staff reflects the vital responsibilities they have got."

Unison believes only a nine per cent pay increase will improve crippling nursing shortages throughout Oxfordshire.

Throughout the summer nursing levels at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital were at crisis point, particularly in the Accident and Emergency department. Deborah Pearman, Royal College of Nursing convener based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, said: "More money is coming in but not for basic pay. It is not aiding people who stay in nursing.

"The work is hard and they are under-staffed and under-resourced. They feel they cannot nurse the patients properly because they are so busy.

"Extra pay would help. But more money coming into nursing is a good thing."

Mr Milburn, in a speech at a conference in Keble College, said: "Much current comment on nurse shortages has focused on pay. I don't want to dodge that. Of course pay is a crucial factor in recruiting, retaining and motivating NHS staff.

"We want a settlement that is fair to nurses, and affordable to the NHS.

"Pay is important but so is the quality of working lives of nursing staff.

"That is why the Government for the first time in the health service's history is setting targets to make the NHS a better place to work for all staff including nurses."

Mr Milburn, Minister of State for Health, told the Human Resources Conference an independent review body will address nurses' pay soon.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.