LONDON, Apr 3: The state-funded National Health Service is unsustainable in its present form and patients will have to pay extra to fill gaps in provision, a campaign group of 870 NHS doctors told Prime Minister Tony Blair today.
In an open letter, pressure group Doctors For Reform said extra money the government had pumped into the NHS had not created the level of service enjoyed in a number of European countries.
''A mixed funding system with other sources of finance, equitably raised, would allow the gaps in today's NHS service to be filled and a modern, truly comprehensive service to emerge,'' the group said.
''We all work within the NHS and we are committed to its values and its goal of universal care equitably available. But these values cannot be achieved in the current system.'' Hospitals across the country have been forced to announce thousands of redundancies in the past weeks as they struggle to reduce deficits ahead of the introduction of a more market-led NHS accounting system.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says only a minority of health trusts are affected, and insists patient care will not suffer as hospitals switch to more efficient methods of treatment.
But the doctors' group said it was unrealistic to expect tax revenues alone to support the health service.
''We are gravely concerned that the situation will deteriorate rather than improve in coming years,'' it said.
''From 2008-09, public spending increases on health will slow but cost pressures will remain just as high.'' One option would be a requirement for people to take out private health insurance to back up state-funded health provision, a spokesman for Doctors For Reform said.
Blair dismissed the doctor's concerns, telling BBC television there had been big improvements in the NHS, though more still had to be done.
''By the end of 2008 we have a commitment to a maximum of 18 weeks from the time you see your doctor to the time you have your operation,'' Blair said.
''If we do that, it will be the first time the National Health Service has ever delivered that in the whole of its history.
''I think that is the best answer to people who say we've got to start charging for treatment or breaking up the way the health service works.''