Trade unions including the Royal College of Nursing are considering strike action after the Government refused to give an across the board 1% pay rise in the NHS.
Unions accused ministers of "taking a scalpel" to pay and of plunging morale to new lows, amid warnings of industrial action in the coming months.
Increases of 1% will be given to some staff in the NHS from April, as well as to members of the armed forces, doctors and dentists, senior civil servants, prison officers and the judiciary, following recommendations from pay review bodies.
But an estimated 600,000 health workers will only receive their normal incremental pay rise rather than a recommended 1%, while 400 "very senior managers" in the NHS will not receive the increase.
The same approach will be taken next year, leading unions to warn that NHS workers faced another two years of below-inflation pay increases.
Josie Irwin, from the Royal College of Nursing, told ITV News: "Nurses traditionally do not like taking industrial action, nurses care for patients.
"We'll have to consider a range of actions to try and get the Government to change it's mind."
Asked if that meant the union was not ruling out industrial action, Ms Irwin said, "This is an incredibly divisive proposal ... and our members will be very, very angry".
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told ITV News 6,000 nurses could potentially lose their jobs if all health workers receive the recommended 1% pay rise.
Mr Hunt said:
The reality that is if we give hospitals pay bills that they can't meet they'll only have one alternative, and that's to lay off nurses. The numbers show that potentially 6,000 nurses would be laid off if we accepted the pay review body's recommendations, and that's not a risk I'm prepared to take for patients.