The National Health Service in England is facing financial disaster – with experts predicting a £30 billion shortfall by 2020.
With one in four health trusts already in debt, the next few years are likely to be the most challenging the health service has ever faced, as a number of pressures threaten to overwhelm it.
Our population is ageing, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of people with long-term conditions and our lifestyle choices are having a big impact on health of the NHS. On top of all this increased demand, the service has been tasked with saving £15 billion from its £110 billion annual budget by 2015.
All of which means that tough choices have to be made about what services can be provided.
On tonight’s programme - What Next For the NHS? on ITV at 7.30pm - we’ve brought together three leading authorities, with decades of experience within the NHS between them, to share their opinions on where and how the money should be spent.
Prof Karol Sikora, a leading Cancer specialist, has a stark warning about where the NHS is heading.
Julia Manning, eye specialist and Chief Executive of think tank 2020 Health, is clear that the NHS can’t go on providing everything that it does now and it’s time we started taking responsibility for our own health.
And Dr Clive Peedell, eminent Cancer specialist and co-leader of the National Health Action Party says that, unless something is done, the situation in the NHS is only going to get worse.
When the NHS was born in 1948 it promised free health care for all based not on ability to pay, but on medical need.
For well over six decades the NHS has remained broadly true to those founding principals – and established itself as the envy of the world.
In an exclusive Tonight survey, 65% of people said the NHS should always be free for patients at the point of need. But there is a growing acceptance in some quarters that the NHS can’t afford to continue in its current form.
As the financial pressures grow decisions are increasingly being made on the basis of cost, as well as medical need.
Just last week a new breast cancer drug, which could add up to six months to a patient’s life, was turned down for routine use by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which decided that it wasn’t effective enough to justify the £90,000 price tag.
Tonight we hear from four people whose lives have been affected by similar decisions within the NHS.
Like 69-year-old Mary Stanton from Birmingham, who suffers from leukaemia. Her application for an expensive, life-extending drug, was turned down by the NHS, leaving her contemplating selling her home to fund it herself.
We also meet the Nadeem family from Manchester, whose son Haris needs a £23,000 operation to help him walk independently. The eight year old suffers from a painful form of cerebral palsy.
The family has been told that the £23,000 operation that could help Haris is not routinely available on the NHS, leaving them with the task of raising the money themselves.
We speak to Laura Rose from Buckinghamshire, who spent tens of thousands of pounds on IVF treatment after the one cycle she was given on the NHS failed. She was shocked to discover that, had she lived just a few miles away, she would have been entitled to a lot more help free of charge.
Tony Markley, from Cumbria, tells how receiving a gastric bypass on the NHS has transformed his life – and means he no longer cashes in costly prescriptions for more than 20 diabetes pills a day.
Our three experts all agree that something needs to be done urgently to save the NHS from financial disaster. But with a finite pot of cash, just what is the answer? According to two of them, it could be patients paying more.
Although Dr Peedell doesn’t agree.
The Department of Health say they recognise the financial challenges trusts are facing and are taking action to address deficits and putting recovery plans in place.