The government has only a year to save the NHS and maintain its status as a free service funded by taxation, the leader of Britain’s 120,000 doctors warned yesterday.
James Johnson, chairman of the British Medical Association, said the period of record growth in the health budget was due to come to an end next year. If Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, did not correct the “idiocy” of the competitive market she created in the NHS, there would be overwhelming pressure for fundamental reform.
Mr Johnson said: “If we get to the end of 2008 and we still cannot balance the books, ministers will want to look carefully at what they do next.”
That could mean restricting the range of services offered on the NHS, asking patients to contribute towards the cost, or slowing down the speed of treatment.
“The BMA believes in a tax-funded system, but other countries have [other] systems. When Alan Milburn talked about the NHS being in the last chance saloon, he was not talking out of his hat.
If we spend 9% of national income on the NHS and we can’t make it work, people will ask: do we need something fundamentally different?”
Government has one year left to save the NHS