NHS staff should be given a "substantial" above-inflation pay award in 2008-09, according to 14 trade unions.
They made the claim as they released details of a survey of 24,000 NHS workers which found that 60% have considered leaving the service in the past 12 months.
Kevin Coyne, head of health at Unite, said: "It is important to invest in and retain high-quality, highly-skilled staff and this should be reflected in the pay recommendation.
"Motivated staff are integral to improved service delivery and should be recognised and rewarded as such, not treated as a budgetary burden.
"Holding down pay will simply undermine the drive to improve services by decreasing morale and making it harder to attract and retain staff."
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, added: "This year we need a substantial, above-inflation pay rise just to put health workers back on an even keel. They are faced with mounting gas, water, electricity and housing bills - they cannot afford to take another pay cut."
She claims the staff survey shows that there is still a degree of bitterness among NHS workers over this year's below-inflation deal.
She said: "It is a disgrace that 60% are looking for work outside the NHS and the lesson to government is clear - NHS staff are angry.
"The government has the cure - bridge the pay gap and don't interfere with the independence of the Pay Review Body."