NHS staff and their supporters marched down Cowley Road into the city today, calling on the government to introduce an ‘Oxford weighting’ for pay.

The march, organised by public service union Unison, culminated in a rally on Broad Street, with hundreds assembled to register their support for Oxford NHS staff.

Last week, administrators at Oxford Health Trust and Oxford University Hospitals called for the government to review areas where pay weighting is applied after vacancy rates soared.

March organiser and a nurse at the Warneford Hospital in Littlemore, Ian McKendrick, said: “There is a national staffing crisis but it’s particularly sharp in Oxford.

“In other parts of the country it is older people leaving the NHS but here it is young workers leaving, which means we are struggling now and won’t have a workforce in the future.”

He added that the issue is the high cost of living in Oxford, noting that staff in London get “an extra £6,500” to reflect their situation.

Kathy Pitson, a support secretary at the John Radcliffe’s cardiology department for the past 19 years, said the Oxford weighting was urgently needed.

“We are having a real problem retaining staff because of the cost of living in Oxford.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many vacancies we have in the department.

“Young doctors and nurses train here for maybe a year or two but then they get confident in themselves and realise the money is better elsewhere.

“We are losing good people because the money isn’t there to keep them and it’s having an impact on everyone else at the hospital.”

Green party councillor David Williams, whose son is an NHS doctor in the north of the country, played on the need for national defence of the NHS in a speech before the march began.

He said: “We are also celebrating the 70 years of the NHS – its founder Aneurin Bevan said the NHS would last as long as there are people to defend it.

“Well we are here to defend it and we will do that until the very end.”

The vacancy rate in Oxfordshire hospitals is twice the national average. Both MPs and employers have acknowledged that the high cost of housing is deterring people from taking up jobs in local hospitals.

In a parliamentary debate earlier this year, Oxford MP Layla Moran cited the “prohibitive cost of housing” as being the key factor motivating Oxford NHS staff from leaving.

She said: “The government can and must take a role collaboratively with stake holders to recognise the unique situation and challenges we face in Oxfordshire.

“If we do nothing I believe we risk seeing the rationing of care and treatment and a backlash, quite rightly, from our constituents.”

The debate was secured after a leaked memo revealed Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust was considering ‘rationing’ chemotherapy treatment owing to a lack of qualified nursing staff.

On the eve of Saturday’s march, health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a “well deserved pay rise” of 6.5% for NHS staff.

It would be the first above inflation pay rise for health workers in eight years.