Exclusive: ITV News survey finds doctors 'rationing care' as cash crisis hits NHS

More than two thirds of doctors admit they have been left with no choice but to ration care as the NHS cash crisis intensifies.

Services and treatments including mental health care for children, hip and knee replacements and cancer drugs are being restricted in order to save money.

A survey of 1,000 doctors conducted exclusively for ITV News reveals patients are being denied treatments including varicose vein removal and cataract surgery, and forced to pay for care privately or wait for their condition to worsen.

Some patients ended up in A&E because they were refused treatment, the research concluded.

It comes just days after the boss of NHS Providers, the organisation that represents hospitals in England, claimed without urgent funding 'something will have to give' and that there should be a debate about which services to sacrifice in the health service.

"Some patients pay for restricted cancer treatments by re-mortgaging their house," said one doctor who was part of the survey and wished to remain anonymous.

"I think rationing will be inevitable, but there must be a national, honest and open debate what the country wants to afford and what it cannot afford. To have a postcode lottery and the NHS bosses telling us there is no rationing, when there clearly is, is wrong."

Further rationing is inevitable, said 90% of doctors surveyed by ITV News.

Some of the patients denied care were children, according to the survey conducted by Wilmington Healthcare, a healthcare data and intelligence provider.

One child was denied access to mental health support services and ended up in A&E after taking an overdose. Another doctor told how a girl under 10 years-old with a large cyst on her cheek was informed it had to get grow bigger before doctors could remove it leaving her with a larger scar on her face.

Nearly three quarters of doctors admitted the restrictions on treatments and procedures led to increased anxiety for the patient.

Robert Gee, from Staffordshire, has received free hearing from NHS for 20 years. New restrictions mean he is no longer eligible for replacements even though one of the aids is broken and the other is nearing the end of its life. Health bosses say he must pay up to £3,000 or go without.

"It was like just dropping off a cliff," he said. "One minute you have got this provision and you feel safe and then all of a sudden you haven't got the provision. When I have got my hearing aids in everything is normal.

"I can hear the birds singing, people talking, its all just normal. When I haven't got hearing aids everything just closes down, everything goes dull."

The doctors surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that more rationing of treatments is inevitable, given the rising demand for care and the NHS's tight finances.

And more than three quarters believe that the NHS is right to be rationing treatments because 'it is necessary for the NHS to survive financially' and that 'not all treatments should be available on the NHS'.

More than three quarters of doctors surveyed by ITV News said rationing care was the right option.

Gareth Thomas, Managing Director of healthcare intelligence provider, Wilmington Healthcare, which conducted the exclusive research, said: “Our research suggests that rationing is already widespread within the NHS for a variety of services and treatments, and with budgets under increasing strain, it is likely that more patients will be subject to restrictions in future.

“Being denied treatment can lead to increased anxiety for the patient and put them at greater risk of being admitted to hospital as an emergency if their condition worsens. Inevitably, it means that many patients will end up paying for private treatment if they can afford it."

Sally Gainsbury, Senior Policy Analyst at the Nuffield Trust health think-tank, said: “It’s not surprising that the NHS is starting to restrict treatments in this way, given the squeeze on its finances.

"A better long- term solution than rationing would be for the Health Service to try to reduce the number of people seeking medical care in the first place – but the problem is that if we’re going to try and make the population healthier, or change the way care is given, that all costs money too, money that the NHS doesn’t have at the moment”.

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