NHS bosses in north Essex say they have no choice but to cut services after criticism from medics’ organisations.

The North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group has cut NHSfunded vasectomies and female sterilisation, stopped free prescriptions of gluten free food and scrapped elective surgery for some smokers and obese patients. It wants to stop most free IVF treatment, subject to a threemonth consultation.

The cuts will save £14million a year.

Sam Hepplewhite, acting chief officer at the group, said it has a duty to get as much good healthcare for people with the money it has available.

He said: “Need for services is increasing, and so we have to look at ways to meet that gap between the money we have available and what to spend it on.

“If we are unable to find savings in these services, we will have to restrict other services to meet that gap. The services we are proposing to stop or restrict are those where the evidence and analysis tells us that they are of less clinical value and for fewer people.

“We are also proposing when people need certain operations, to ask people to lose weight if they are obese or to stop smoking, because there is evidence that their clinical outcomes will improve if they do.”

Researchers for health industry magazine Pulse analysed the policies of 19 clinical commissioning group that have been told by NHS England to make urgent cuts to their budgets.

They showed that ten require obese patients to lose weight or smokers to kick the habit before having hip and knee surgery, varicose vein treatment or other procedures.

Others have recently stopped paying for hearing aids for patients deemed to only be moderately deaf.

Dr James Kingsland, president of the National Association of Primary Care, said: “The idea of rationing necessary care in a service that is free at the point of use is just unacceptable.

“Any health commissioning body looking at rationing services needs to question if it is fit for purpose.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, which represents family doctors, said: ‘Until we get new funding into the NHS, we will continue to come under financial pressure and it will get worse.”