Jeremy Hunt has defended the Government's handling of the NHS pay dispute this morning.
He said: "We have to make sure we end up with a decision that isn't going to lead to nurses and frontline staff being laid off."
Around 40 NHS workers are outside Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary in protest over pay. They are chanting "what do we want? More pay" - The walk out will last for four hours.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the government is prepared to talk to the striking NHS unions about the current pay rise dispute.
He said: "We will talk to them if they're prepared to look to reform the system of increments, which is unclear and unfair.
"I recognise frontline staff do a magnificent job in the NHS."
Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis has assured the public that patient safety will not be put at risk during today's strike action.
He said: "What NHS workers also don't do is walk out on patients.
"Safety is paramount and we have been working with employers to ensure urgent patient care is not compromised."
If the government implemented the recommended pay rise for NHS staff at least 14,000 nurses would be laid off over the next two years, the health secretary said.
Jeremy Hunt told Good Morning Britain he would have "loved to have been more generous" but had been told in no uncertain terms a real terms pay rise would mean drastically reducing staff numbers.
With thousands of NHS staff expected to go on strike today in a row over pay, here is a list of those hospitals affected.Read the full story ›
George Barron, Branch Secretary at Northumbria Health Care, has hit out at the Government ahead of today's strike action involving NHS workers.
Health service workers provide essential support to us all when we most need it.
We are constantly coping with organisational change and adapting to ever increasing demands. Yet the Government have given us a very clear message that our contribution to society is not valued.
It is not surprising that we are angry and upset that Jeremy Hunt, who along with other MPs, next year will be getting an 11% pay increase, is denying the majority of health workers even a modest 1% pay increase
Nurses and hospital workers across the North East will walk out today in their first pay strike for 32 years.
Unison members working in the NHS across the region will go on strike against the Government's rejection of a 1% pay increase offer, which was recommended by an independent pay review body.
Union members will be staging a four hour strike from 7am to 11am, followed by four days of industrial action short of striking, such as refusing to work overtime.
Members of the armed forces will drive ambulances in London and the north-west when public sector workers go on strike on Monday, the Ministry of Defence has said.
An MoD spokesperson said: “We can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is providing support to the Department of Health during the 13 October industrial action by some trade unions.
"This assistance involves the provision of military drivers to support the London and the North West Ambulance Services.”