Some NHS bosses 'told to think the unthinkable' in bid to meet financial targets

Parts of the NHS in England are considering "savage" cuts in a bid to meet financial targets, a new report suggests.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) has summarised a series of measures which are being discussed by officials from NHS England and NHS Improvement and health managers in 14 areas of the country with the highest overspends.

Some of the proposals under discussion in a number of the areas include: closing or downgrading wards and services, extending waiting times, restricting NHS funding for some treatments and limiting the number of operations carried out by non-NHS providers, the HSJ reported.

The proposals are being discussed under the capped expenditure process - which was introduced this year to cap NHS spending in some areas so they meet so-called "control total" budgets in 2017/18.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that the NHS "cannot survive" another five years under a Conservative government.

Norman Lamb, former health minister and Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, described the proposals as "savage cuts".

The HSJ reported that NHS leaders from areas involved have been told "think the unthinkable".

One chief executive told the HSJ that some of the options, if pursued, would "challenge the value base" of NHS leaders.

But NHS England stressed that no decisions have been made and that the options under discussion would require national sign-off.

The HSJ said that meetings to discuss the capped expenditure process took place throughout last month.

The 14 areas of the country are: Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset; Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; Cheshire (Eastern, Vale Royal and South); Cornwall; Devon; Morecambe Bay; Northumbria; North Central London; North Lincolnshire; North West London; South East London; Staffordshire; Surrey and Sussex and Vale of York and Scarborough and Ryedale.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Within their fair share of the NHS budget, local doctors and hospitals are planning how best to deliver services to patients focusing on the priorities of the public, including modern cancer care, expanded mental health and convenient GP services.

"While many options will have been considered locally, the choices of which options to pursue are still to be evaluated and agreed and would require national sign-off in due course."

Mr Ashworth said: "We now know if the Tories are re-elected on Thursday we'll see hospital wards closed, waiting times growing, treatments rationed and staff cut.

"Every single day the Tories are in power hospitals are being left to crumble, staff are being let down, waiting lists are growing and patients are being denied the care they need and deserve.

"Let's be clear: these new, secret Tory plans will only be stopped by electing a Labour government on Thursday.

"The NHS cannot survive five more years of a Tory government. That is why Labour will pledge to bring the health service back from the brink with a multibillion-pound rescue package. The British people deserve nothing less."

Mr Lamb said: "These savage proposed cuts to frontline services show why we cannot allow Conservative underfunding of the NHS to continue.

"We have less than 48 hours left to save the NHS as we know it.

"Without more investment in the NHS, waiting times will increase, availability of treatments will be reduced and patients will suffer.

"We don't need to accept this. The Liberal Democrats will stand up to Theresa May on the NHS to ensure our hospitals receive the funding they need."