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NHS may need to charge patients to plug funding gap

4 July 2012

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The financial squeeze on the NHS could run for “at least a decade”, a report suggests.

Researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found the freeze on NHS spending until 2015 would, if delivered, be the “tightest” four-year period of funding for the NHS in the past 50 years.

The report NHS and social care funding: the outlook to 2021–22 showed that even if NHS spending in England were to rise in line with national income during years 2015-16 and 2021-22, it still would not be enough to cope with the increasing costs of an ageing population.

Tax hikes, further borrowing or further welfare cuts would be needed to plug the gap, researchers claim.

Nuffield Trust Chief Economist Anita Charlesworth warned that in the instance that the government deems such options to be “to difficult politically” or “too damaging”, health spending will have to fall in real terms.

“Whatever happens, the NHS needs to plan a medium term future based on belt tightening and it needs to be prepared for future years to be even tougher than they are now,” she said.

Carl Emmerson, Deputy Director of the IFS and co-author of the report, said “serious consideration” should be given to the options of the NHS, including the possibility of charging for services.