A former Labour health minister has said people should have to pay £10 a month to use the NHS in a major report on the future of the health service.
Lord Warner, a minister under Tony Blair, said “our much-beloved, 65-year-old NHS no longer meets the country’s needs” and described it as “outdated, cosseted and unaffordable”.
National Health Action – a political party created to oppose any privatisation of the NHS – predicted that such a fee would be as unpopular as the poll tax because the poor would pay the same as the rich.
And there was also opposition to the idea from the British Medical Association, which warned of a “slippery slope towards the end of an NHS that needs to be, and should be, free at the point of use”.
Lord Warner, who co-wrote the report for the think tank Reform, wrote in The Guardian: “Many politicians and clinicians are scared to tell people that our much-beloved, 65-year-old NHS no longer meets the country’s needs.
“Frankly, it is often poor value for money. The NHS now represents the greatest public spending challenge after the general election. MPs taking to the streets to preserve clinically unsustainable hospital services only damage their constituents.”
The report said the NHS was facing £30bn-a-year funding gap by 2020. “Sin” taxes on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sugary foods and making hospital visitors pay for overnight stays were other suggestions for ways to raise extra money.
“Over-protecting an outdated, cosseted and unaffordable healthcare system inevitably means starving other vital public services, unless we choke off economic growth and worsen the cost of living with big tax increases,” Lord Warner added.
“That might all be worth contemplating if the NHS was offering brilliant care. But it isn’t.”
Dr Clive Peedell, an NHS oncologist who is co-leader of the National Health Action party, said the monthly charge would be “an unfair tax because ... the poor would pay the same as the rich. It could be as unpopular as the poll tax was. ”
And Dr Ian Wilson, chairman of the British Medical Association’s national representative body, said: “Any attempts to introduce what would amount to an NHS tax on patients puts us on the slippery slope towards the end of an NHS that needs to be, and should be, free at the point of use.
“The BMA remains strongly opposed to any attempts to introduce charging patients, whether that is a monthly payment, for hospital admissions or for GP appointments.”
A Department of Health spokesman said the Coalition did not support the introduction of membership fees “or anything like them”.
“But we know that with an ageing population there’s more pressure on the NHS, which is why we need changes to services that focus far more on health prevention out of hospitals,” the spokesman added.