PATIENTS on the NHS could be charged a nightly fee for their stay if funding is not brought in line with demand.
In a report published in the Independent, chief health executive Rob Webster outlined the options available for the NHS to take in the future, and said that some difficult decisions will have to be taken.
Although Webster himself did not elaborate on the plans, the Independent quoted an anonymous source as setting the price at €95 (£75) a night for hospital patients to use a bed.
Speaking to the newspaper, Webster said: “If the NHS cannot afford to fund everything then it will need to make tough choices about what it does fund.
“Do we think about increasing our tolerance for longer wait, or do we say NHS funding is only for the health aspects of care and treatment, which means patients being asked to cover their hotel costs for bed and board?
“Overall funding allocation for health and social care is a political choice. Flat funding in real terms is a choice. Funding that doesn’t match an increase in demand is a choice. One-off lumps of money, which gets newspaper headlines but don’t allow health service leaders to plan effectively, are a choice.”
A Department of Health spokesperson, also speaking to the Independent, denied that plans to charge for bed and board existed. He said: “The NHS will remain free at the point of use.
“We know that with an ageing population there’s more pressure on the NHS, which is why we’ve increased the budget by €16.2 billion (£12.7 billion) over this parliament and are investing in community services to keep people living healthier at home for longer.”
The debate comes at a time when the NHS, its funding, and the risk of privatisation are all featured highly in the three main political parties’ priorities.
The Tories stressed during their Party Conference that they would not privatise the NHS, although many outside the party are yet to be convinced of their words.
Senior health experts and organisations recently sent an open letter to the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties underlining their concern for the direction in which the NHS was heading.
The letter said: “The NHS and our social care services are at breaking point and things cannot go on like this. An NHS deficit of €38 billion (£30 billion) is predicted by 2020 – a funding black hole that must be filled,”