A HEALTH boss told a public meeting he could not guarantee NHS services would not deteriorate under a major savings challenge.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) interim chief executive Ian Wilson made the warning at the last of seven public meetings on the savings.

The group, which makes most NHS county funding decisions, faces a funding gap of up to £200m by 2020 if savings are not made, he said.

The OCCG has held the meetings in Wantage, Witney, Oxford, Banbury, Bicester and Wallingford to get residents’ views on spending.

Around 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting at Oxford Town Hall. Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran told Mr Wilson the funding gap was “alarming”.

She asked: “Can you say hand on heart that services will not deteriorate between now and 2020?”

Mr Wilson said: “Absolutely not. I can’t guarantee that. It is determined by the economic circumstances.”

He told the meeting the OCCG is having to save £20m this year to try to balance its £597.8m budget but is still expecting to be £12m in the red.

An ageing population, rising demand for services and the cost of new treatments were putting pressure on finances, he said.

Oxon Keep Our NHS Public secretary Bill MacKeith said £20m a year could be saved by “reneging” on repayments for hospital buildings built under the controversial private finance initiative (PFI).

This has seen developments like the Oxford Cancer Centre built by private investors which Oxfordshire University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUHT) then pays back over 35 years with interest.

Mr Wilson said the OUHT told him that compared to other places the burden of the PFI on the JR [John Radcliffe Hospital] was less, but he added: “I’m not suggesting it is not a problem.”

A key challenge is getting the NHS closer to peoples’ homes, said OCCG accountable officer Dr Stephen Richards.

Yet he said: “The gap between the healthier and wealthier population in this county and those who are less wealthy has not changed markedly.”

Unison Oxfordshire secretary Mark Ladbrooke warned of “cuts” and said: “At some stage this system is going to break. “The pressures are increasing all the time.”

He urged bosses to “push back” against the Government but Mr Wilson said this would be “completely wrong and improper” as the OCCG had “no mandate” to be a campaigning organisation.

About 400 people attended the previous six events and gave almost 200 responses to go into a five-year plan for the OCCG.

It will be discussed at the next OCCG board meeting at Jubilee House, Oxford Business Park at 9am on Tuesday, January 30. The public can attend the meeting.