Pat Mills, the Department of Health's commercial director, has warned that unless something drastic is done to improve NHS buying practices and make the organisation more efficient, patients may end up having to pay for NHS services by 2025.
He was speaking at a conference, where according to The Mirror, he warned that the way the NHS pays for things has to change He added: "If we can't do that, frankly in eight or nine years we're not going to have a 'free at the point of use' health service."
The newspaper reported that the Department of Health was quick to deny the possibility, saying: "The public can be absolutely assured that under this Government, the NHS will remain free at the point of use."
Not the first time
It seems, therefore, more of a turn of phrase than a direct threat. It echoes the kind of language used by the chief executive of Confederation (which represents NHS managers) who said two years ago that unless the government faced up to the growth in demand for the NHS - and stumped up more cash - hospitals might have to introduce hotel-style charges.
The BMA also has form for raising the spectre of charges. In 2014, it held a debate on whether GPs should charge for appointments. In this instance, not even the Trust that proposed the motion wanted to see charges introduced -it just wanted to spark a debate about the best way to stop people missing appointments.
It came on the same day as the Health Select Committee's report into the NHS finances, which according to the BBC warned that the challenge of balancing the books was 'colossal'.
It also said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had used misleading figures to make people think he was pledging an extra £8.4 billion of funding by 2020/21. If he had used the same calculation as in previous years it would have translated as £4.5 billion. The BBC added that ministers had rejected the accusation.