UK & World News
Patients 'Should Pay £10 NHS Membership Fee'
People should pay a £10-a-month fee to use the NHS and "hotel-style charges" for stays in hospital, according to former Labour health minister Lord Warner.
He said the radical measures were needed to help fund the NHS which is struggling to meet the needs of an ageing population and more people suffering from long-term conditions.
A report, co-written by Lord Warner, estimates a monthly £10 charge for using the NHS alongside other measures could generate £6bn a year.
Lord Warner said: "We can no longer pay homage to an out-of-date and unaffordable NHS that's unfit for today's and tomorrow's care needs.
"The day of reckoning has arrived with an obesity epidemic on our doorstep. The NHS has to change radically and fast over a single Parliament with flat-lined funding.
"It should have no more hand-outs at the expense of other public services.
"It faces a hard slog of doing more with less and a tough conversation with the public about how we change services and accept new ways of funding the NHS."
The report, published by think-tank Reform, proposes patients make "co-payments for the hotel costs of some inpatient hospital care".
Those receiving free prescriptions would be exempt from the charges, and NHS funding from general taxation should only rise with inflation, the report added.
Other ways to boost revenue include increasing taxes on alcohol and tobacco, on food and drink containing "excessive" amounts of sugar and on gambling and betting.
The report also suggests "full-cost" charging for the administration of vaccinations for overseas travel.
It also puts forward the idea of "more rigorous inflation-proofing" prescription charges - and possibly reducing the number of people exempt from charges.
"By the end of the next Parliament, providing there was the political will, it is possible to envisage these changes in entitlements yielding over £6bn a year," the report said.
"A revamped system for prescription charges and other co-payments such as hospital hotel charges could raise over £1bn a year.
"A £10-a-month fee for a membership scheme with free membership for those exempted from prescription charges might well produce over £2bn a year for use in local preventative initiatives."
It added: "All politicians allowed the NHS to overdose on higher budgets without shifting more care closer to home and concentrating our specialist services on fewer, safer, more highly skilled, 24/7 centres."
A Department of Health spokesman said the Government "doesn't support the introduction of membership fees or anything like them".
He said: "The founding principles of the NHS make it universally free at point of use and we are clear that it will continue to be so.
"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."
Labour health spokesman Jamie Reed said: "This is not something Labour would ever consider. We believe in an NHS free at the point of use, and a Labour government will repeal David Cameron's NHS changes that put private profit before patient care."
The report comes as a poll suggests almost half of politicians believe the NHS may no longer be free at the point of need if pressing issues facing the health service are not tackled.
A survey of MPs found that half believe that a free health service could be consigned to the history books if the challenges facing the NHS are not addressed.
In the past, health leaders have warned that the NHS will only survive if there are radical changes in the delivery of healthcare such as hospital closures and centralisation of services.
Officials say if the health service in England was to continue delivering care the way it currently is, there will be a funding gap of £30bn between 2013 and 2021, even if the health budget is protected.