Future of 'free' NHS in doubt

There will be a "fundamental and permanent" change in the provision of free healthcare in the next decade as the cost of unhealthy lifestyles continue to take their toll on NHS resources, researchers warned today.

Legislation to restrict unhealthy behaviours like smoking and the consumption of alcohol and fatty foods is "inevitable" by 2020 if we are to retain a free health service, the study, conducted by the Future Foundation, says.

The research, carried out in conjunction with Friends Provident, outlines why the UK's burgeoning and ageing population will force government to regulate against unhealthy behaviour in a bid to retain free healthcare in the UK.

The "Visions of Britain 2020" report suggests that government health campaigns are failing to persuade individuals to live healthier lifestyles. As a result, fiscal penalties are the most likely solution. However, experts remain split on the effectiveness and the "policing" of a healthcare system which rewards healthy behaviour and penalises unhealthy behaviour.

Trevor Matthews, chief executive officer of Friends Provident, said the report reveals that there will be a "fundamental and permanent" change in the provision of free healthcare in the next decade.

"The study identifies a disconnect between our aspirations for healthcare, and our behaviour. We all need to adopt healthier lifestyles or else risk being faced with penalties in the years ahead."

The report can be found at www.visionsofbritain2020.co.uk

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