MP Sir Edward Leigh has called for an ‘honest debate’ about the finances of the NHS - and even suggested that the Government may have to ‘think the unthinkable’ and consider introducing charges for non-essential treatment.
The Conservative MP for Market Rasen was heckled by other MPs when he made the controversial suggestion during a question and answer session with Minister of State for Health, Philip Dunne MP, in the House of Commons last week.
Sir Edward said: “Perhaps the Minister could now direct his attention to the East Midlands where we have problems with A&E, particularly for people in rural areas.
“For those of us who rely completely on the NHS, this is obviously a matter of vital concern.
“I just wonder whether we should not have an honest debate about this and recognise that we have an ageing population.
“Our A&E times are stressed, and we may have to either tax people more or even think the unthinkable and charge people for non—...”
Following heckling from MPs, Sir Edward continued: “See, it is unthinkable, but we have to concentrate on the essentials.
“Let us have an honest debate about the finances of the NHS.”
In his response, The Minister of State for Health did not explicitly make reference to - nor rule out - the possibility of charging patients for non-essential NHS care.
He said: “My Honourable Friend will be aware that the sustainability and transformation plans discussed earlier today are designed to bring closer integration of health providers and commissioners within a health system area, such as the East Midlands.
“The ambition is to integrate better health and social care provision to avoid some of the challenges he identifies.”
In a statement issued following the debate, The Minister of Health affirmed his position and said: “The public can be absolutely assured that under this Government, the NHS will remain free at the point of use.
“That’s why we’re investing £10 billion in its own plan for the future, including almost £4 billion this year, to sustain and improve services for patients.”