Nurses have been urged to think carefully before voting to strike over the government's decision not to offer a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff.
In the opening speech of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress, chief executive Dr Peter Carter (pictured) said that although the pay settlement is "insulting", going on strike means abandoning patients.
He said he knows that nurses will not leave "babies in the neonatal unit" and "cancel that visit to an elderly patient in the community".
Instead, Dr Carter called for nurses and midwives across England to use protest, lobbying and "the ballot box", as well as alternative forms of industrial action.
He said: "I fully accept that this is your congress, and your organisation, and it is for you to decide. However I would be failing in my job if I did not give you my honestly held opinion.
"The fact is that MPs will need your vote and your vote can be the difference between returning to parliament or being out of a job. And that's why now is the time to lobby them. To flush them out to say where they are standing on health workers' salaries."
A report released today by the RCN revealed that executive directors pay has increased by an average of 6.1% over the last two years, compared to just 1.6% for nurses.
"While the government keeps an iron grip on nursing pay, NHS trusts have the freedom to set executive pay as high as they like," said Dr Carter.
He added: "On top of that, 4,000 senior managers got huge redundancy payments, only to be re-employed by the NHS a few weeks later. The government just doesn't have a handle on what's going on with senior managers pay."