The next five years will be the "most challenging and decisive that the NHS in England has ever faced", a group of medical experts has warned the next health secretary.
In an open letter to the next health secretary, Dr Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, and her colleagues warn that "England's NHS is stretched close to breaking point" and that it is "still reeling" from the "costly and distracting" reforms of the coalition Government.
They wrote: "Extreme cuts to social care have exacerbated the pressures, causing knock-on effects across the service.
"Waiting times for treatment are the longest for many years. Staff morale in many parts of the service is at rock bottom because of real terms pay cuts and the relentless workload. Many GPs are retiring early, and new recruits are thin on the ground."
They added that patient safety is now at risk, with 13 NHS trusts currently in special measures because of concerns about the quality of care being delivered.
They point out that NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said savings of £22 billion over the next five years are necessary, "but this level of saving will still require efficiency gains never before achieved by the NHS, and a further £8 billion is needed from government by 2020 just to stand still".
Their letter sets out a number of requests they urge whoever comes into power next month to commit to, starting with ensuring that the NHS remains publicly funded and free at the point of need.