PATIENTS could be denied access to some NHS treatments as health chiefs desperately try to bring spending under control, with vasectomies the first to be cut.

The operations have been suspended for new patients on the NHS in Oxfordshire for the remainder of 2018/19, with Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) admitting cost-cutting measures could see further ‘non-essential’ services rationed or removed from the NHS altogether.

The CCG has blamed a huge increase in demand in urgent care which has resulted in an overspend of £2.4million in just the first two months of this financial year.

More than £2million of that overspend is down to accident and emergency attendances, emergency admissions to hospital and same day or short stay urgent care, according to the CCG.

Health leaders have said if spending continues at its current rate the CCG’s contingency budget will be blown within the first half of the year, and so swift action must be taken to prevent finances spiralling out of control.

Executive director at Healthwatch Oxfordshire, Rosalind Pearce, said: “Whilst we appreciate the financial constraints facing the health service in Oxfordshire, it is obviously a concern when any treatment is no longer available free of charge.

“When operations are no longer available on the NHS, this calls into question the commitment to address health inequalities across the communities in Oxfordshire.

“Equality of access to health services should be a priority for commissioners.

“Access to vasectomy operations should not only be based on ability to pay for private treatment.

“We hope that patients who do feel that they should still be treated by the NHS will be treated fairly and sympathetically.”

OCCG hold the purse strings for local NHS services, deciding which providers will be commissioned to offer local health care.

Last year OCCG came in more than £4million under budget, spending around £426million on acute services (hospital care).

However, bosses did have to introduce a financial recovery plan for the year before.

The budget this year is in excess of £891million with bosses stating a significant overspend would be ‘unacceptable’ - the CCG has a statutory responsibility to live within the funding allocation it has been given by NHS England.

Health chiefs are now working with the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust to push savings schemes ‘further and faster’ with the county’s acute services representing the largest funding pressure for the CCG.

According to a recent report, a review of ‘uncommitted or discretionary spending’ is now underway with OUH, with the view to potentially stopping initiatives that make ‘the least contribution to system objectives’.

Bosses would not reveal which services could be affected but said reduction or suspension of health related treatments will be looked at on a case by case basis and decisions will be carefully considered with clinicians to ensure patient safety.

A vasectomy operation costs in the region of £500, including the consultation, with more than 450 patients currently on the waiting list in Oxfordshire.

The CCG argued that any new patients referred now would not be seen until April 2019 because of the backlog so future patients would not be disadvantaged.

However, deputy chief executive at sexual health charity FPA, Bekki Burbidge, said the cut would unfairly affect those on lower income who could not afford to pay for private treatment, while the move could also represent a false economy.

She said: “Cuts to contraception and sexual health services are a concern for us, as they end up leading to increasing restrictions on free access to the full range of contraceptive methods.

“The return on invest for every £1 spent on contraception is £9 over 10 years, so cuts today can actually end up costing more money down the line.”

Director of finance at OCCG, Gareth Kenworthy, said: “Oxfordshire CCG is responsible for ensuring the NHS in Oxfordshire lives within its means and it is important that we take action now to avoid slipping into a position from which it would be difficult to recover.

“A financial recovery plan is being developed to bring us back into balance before the year end.

“This plan requires the support of everyone – hospitals, GPs, community nurses, ambulance services and patients.

"The plan involves working with health providers in hospitals and in primary care to carefully review where savings can be made as quickly as possible, without compromising the safety and quality of services for patients.

“This means that some optional spending for non-essential services may be reduced or delayed.”