Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Sunday, 28 June 2009 17:22 UK

Public 'fears NHS spending cuts'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Some people surveyed were prepared to pay higher taxes to fund the NHS

Nine out of 10 people fear that NHS services could be cut and waiting times rise as the government tackles the recession, a survey suggests.

The British Medical Association poll of 1,000 people also found three quarters believed that other public services should take a financial hit instead.

The union said it showed the depth of feeling about the NHS.

Managers have warned the health service is facing a funding shortfall of up to £10bn for the three years after 2011.

NHS spending is already guaranteed until then, but many predict the government will be forced to rein back on public spending after that date to pay off the debts incurred in bailing out the banks.

The survey, which was carried out by an independent firm of pollsters, even showed four in 10 people were prepared to pay higher taxes to safeguard the health service.

'Huge mistake'

British Medical Association chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said: "The results show how anxious the public is about the effects of the recession on the health service.

"While we appreciate that the government needs to steer the country through this difficult economic period, we urge it not do do so at the expense of NHS funding.

"People always need good quality healthcare and it would be a huge mistake to try and make savings by squeezing the NHS."

However, the poll also showed 59% of people felt that involving the private sector more in the health service could protect services.

The view is at odds with the BMA position. The union has campaigned for years against such moves, warning they risk fragmenting care.

Dr Meldrum said the survey, issued on the eve of its annual conference in Liverpool, threw up mixed messages on the issue.

He pointed out that the public had also showed a dislike for the private sector in other questions.

But he admitted the union had failed to fully persuade people.

He said: "We have got a degree of educating to do."

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