Better-off patients could be forced to pay to see a GP or have minor surgery in order to save the NHS, a former chancellor has said.
Veteran Tory Ken Clarke warned that financial contributions from those in a better financial position may be necessary to ease the pressure on the NHS.
He said: “As health demands of the population, an aging population, get ever higher, and more expensive, it’s taking up an ever-increasing amount of GDP.
“We may have to look at some means of making the better off patients making some modest contribution to their healthcare.”
The comments come as Health Secretary Steve Barclay expressed regret and admitted emergency care has “not been acceptable in recent weeks” for some patients and staff in England.
Mr Barclay said the “worst flu season for 10 years” has made this winter “particularly tough”, before he outlined a series of measures to alleviate the crisis in the NHS.
He said the Government will spend up to £200 million buying thousands of extra care home beds to speed up the discharge of hospital patients and reduce the strain on hospitals.
Mr Barclay also confirmed £50 million additional capital funding for hospitals.
Labour branded the policies a “sticking plaster”.
Making a statement on NHS winter pressures, Mr Barclay told the Commons: “I and the Government regret the experience for some patients and staff in emergency care has not been acceptable in recent weeks.
“I’m sure the whole House will join me in thanking staff in the NHS and social care who have worked tirelessly throughout this intense period, including those clinicians in this House who have worked on wards this Christmas, including my honourable friend, the minister for mental health (Maria Caulfield) and the shadow minister for mental health (Rosena Allin-Khan).
“There’s no question it has been an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone in health and care. Flu has made this winter particularly tough. First, because we’re facing the worst flu season for 10 years.
“And these flu pressures come on top of Covid, with over 9,000 people in hospital with Covid, while exceptional levels of scarlet fever activity and an increase in Strep A has created further pressure on A&E.
“And all of this, of course, comes on top of a high historic starting point. So we didn’t have a quiet summer with the significant levels of Covid and delayed discharges more than double what they were during the pandemic.
“So the scale, the speed, the timing of our flu season has combined with the ongoing high level of Covid admissions in hospital and the pandemic legacy of high delayed discharge to put real strain on frontline services.
“Since the NHS began preparing for this winter, there was a recognition that this year had the potential to be the hardest ever. That is why there was a specific focus on vaccination.”