Cuts 'will test NHS to the limit'
The NHS and social services will be tested "to the limit" by the Government's efficiency saving requirements over the next four years, ministers have been warned.
The influential Health Select Committee said that the spending review settlement represented a "significant challenge" for the NHS.
Unprecedented levels of efficiencies would be needed to avoid cuts in services, it concluded in a newly published report.
The cross-party committee was not convinced either that present levels of social care could be maintained with the funding being made available.
Its chairman, Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, said the NHS savings needed over the next four years - estimated to be 4% annually - had never been achieved in the NHS before.
Social service departments would need to deliver efficiency gains of 2% to 3.5% each year to avoid service reductions, he said. "The Government's plans for health and social care are based on assumptions which will test these services to the limit," he added.
The MP continued: "There is no precedent for efficiency gain on this scale in the history of the NHS, nor has any precedent yet been found of any healthcare system anywhere in the world doing anything similar."
In its report, the committee warned that the Government was not providing "a clear enough narrative" about how savings were to be made without hitting services. It called on ministers to provide an estimate of how much money would be soaked up by reorganisation in the NHS which was creating additional uncertainty about budgets.
The Department of Health insisted that an additional £1.3 billion next April, rising to £2 billion in 2014/15, on top of social care grants would "make it possible to protect people's access to care, without tightening eligibility".
Liberal Democrat Health Minister Paul Burstow told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that NHS staff were already rising to the challenge. "This is a challenge that's being worked through on the ground by NHS staff up and down the country," he said.