The issue of linking academic pay to the National Health Service was raised this week as part of a discussion on a shake-up of career structures for nursing academics.
The Department of Health's human resources proposals are contained in a progress report that was presented this week to NHS and education department chiefs.
Unions claim they have been excluded from the DoH discussions. They say that new arrangements will have implications for the pay framework being hammered out between themselves and universities.
A Natfhe survey last year showed that while the pay of academics had largely kept pace with that in the NHS, opportunities in universities for career development at senior level lagged behind.
Andy Pike, Natfhe's national official for higher education, said: "So far, unions have been excluded from these discussions, and we are writing to the DoH to seek trade union involvement.
"It is frustrating that these discussions are taking place separately from the pay framework. We have, as yet, no idea of how academic pay will be linked to NHS pay. If the levels are wrong, then academics may not find themselves better off."
The plan would have to find some way of allowing academics to move between pension schemes.
A spokesperson for the Council of Deans of Nursing said: "We welcome the fact that a new career structure is now top of the agenda."
A high-powered advisory group was set up last year to ensure strategic planning across all learning and research issues in health and social care at central government level. One of its first tasks has been to develop the human resources plan.
The NHS University is steering the planning work. A project team has been set up under Tony Butterworth, chief executive of the Trent Workforce Development Confederation. A full plan is expected to be presented to the advisory group in June, followed by a consultation exercise.
Sir Martin Harris, vice-chairman of the Universities UK's health committee and a member of the advisory group, said: "We need to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers to stop health academics moving between practice and teaching and back again."
He said that the new career structure would also seek to ensure that all health academics had the opportunity to carry out research.
The advisory group is also understood to be backing away from proposals to shift the funding of medical schools from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the DoH.
A report looking at the pros and cons of such a move was due to be presented at the meeting. Sir Martin said: "It is becoming apparent that the arguments against moving are overwhelming."