Health union leaders say they could call off strikes threatened for next week if the Government moves on pay.

After talks with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Unison's Christina McAnea said: "I think it's a welcome sign that we have at last got the chance to have these more serious and sensible discussions."

It suggests Mr Hunt may be reconsidering his decision to ignore the recommendation of the Pay Review Body that all NHS staff get at least a 1% rise.

Ambulance staff and midwives are among thousands of NHS workers due to strike next week. In some areas, the stoppages are set to last for twelve hours.

Mr Hunt said industrial action in the current situation was "totally inappropriate". He wants assurances that if the strikes do go ahead, emergency calls will be answered.