The British public back a possible industrial action by midwives in their pay dispute with NHS employers, according to a poll by ComRes for Royal College of Midwives.

The survey, which questioned more than 2,000 people in late August, found that more than six in ten (63%) of respondents would support strike action by midwives, provided that arrangements were made to ensure that any pregnant woman in need of immediate care during the period of the industrial action received care as usual.

The finding comes as the RCM begins balloting its members in England on industrial action over the rejection of the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommendation of a 1% increase for all NHS staff.

"This public backing fills me with hope for our campaign and our ballot and I am sure it will be welcomed by midwives," said Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM.

"I do, however, want to reassure women and their families that they will continue to receive safe care during any industrial action. The woman, her baby and their safety are a midwife's absolute priority and any action will not change that."

The research also revealed that the public back a 1% increase to NHS staff pay, with four in five (80%) polled saying they would support the pay rise.

"All staff should receive additional pay of at least 1%," said a Department of Health spokesperson.

"Paying staff a pay rise on top of their increments, which are a minimum of two per cent for midwives, would risk frontline jobs. These are tough decisions but pay restraint has meant that we could afford 1,700 extra midwives since May 2010, as well as a further 6,000 in training.

"We are disappointed that unions are balloting for industrial action. There is still time for the unions to put patients first and accept our offer to come back to the negotiating table."