The government is considering proposals which could spell the end of free healthcare in the UK.

An inquiry has been launched quietly by the Conservative government which will look into ways to introduce charges into the service.

The review entitled ‘Under Secretary of State for NHS Productivity’ will examine ways in which the NHS could be funded through user charges or insurance.

The NHS is currently funded by National Insurance tax, but is free at the point of service, meaning there are no upfront charges or invoices.

In 1946, the healthcare service was introduced and in clause 4 of its White Paper, it said: “All the service, or any part of it, is to be available to everyone in England and Wales. The Bill imposes no limitations on availability – e.g. limitations based on financial means, age, sex, employment or vocation, area of residence, or insurance qualification.”

It means that the NHS is available to everyone, whether or not they can afford to pay user charges, or whether they are insurable.

Although the review is being led by the Tory Party, there has been little opposition from the Labour party. In fact, Labour peer, Lord Norman Warner, appears to support the proposals, and said: “Our tax-funded, largely free at the point of clinical need NHS is rapidly approaching an existential moment. The voices of dissent and outrage will no doubt be deafening but a wise Government should begin now the process of helping the public engage in a discourse about future funding of the NHS.”

Politicians in favour of the reforms claim that as it currently stands, the NHS is unsustainable and at breaking point.

Another Labour peer, Lord Meghnad Desai, suggested that patients should be issued with an “Oyster card” whereby money is deducted whenever a patient uses healthcare, and that they should receive a “bill” at the end of the year. He added that the NHS should not come without a cost.

Rather than taking the logical step of increasing national insurance contributions, the review has focussed solely on introducing additional charges.

The charges would be additional, because they would come on top of the mandatory national insurance tax which already pays for the NHS.

In fact, Lord David Prior claimed that although he liked the idea of a tax-funded NHS system, he said: “if demand for healthcare outstrips growth in the economy for a prolonged period, of course that premise has to be questioned.”

He also suggested that an inquiry into NHS funding should be carried out by independent bodies such as the King’s Fund.

“I would like to meet the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and maybe two or three others, to discuss this in more detail to see whether we can frame some kind of independent inquiry—I do not think that it needs to be a royal commission. We are not short of people who could look at this issue for us; there are health foundations, such as the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund,” he said.

However, this completely sidesteps the fact that the King’s Fund has already carried out an inquiry, entitled the ‘Barker Review’ which supported the idea of funding the NHS with inheritance tax and national insurance increases.

Both of these forms of tax have recently been cut by Chancellor George Osborne.

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