The economic crisis could have “devastating” consequences for the NHS, with cutbacks to patient services and redundancies, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Frontline services are already feeling the pressure, with some 40% of hospital doctors questioned saying treatments or therapies are being limited for financial reasons, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).

The BMA warned that redundancies, recruitment freezes and service cutbacks are the “early signs of the impact of the economic crisis” on the NHS.

It published survey results from 92 doctors on the eve of its annual conference in Brighton, where NHS finances are likely to dominate the debate.

Some 72% of the doctors surveyed said their health trust had postponed or cancelled clinical service developments because of financial pressures, while 42% said there were limitations on prescribing.

The poll found that trusts are trying to make annual savings of 6% on average.

The Government has promised to guarantee NHS spending growth in real terms but the BMA says this will be “minimal”.

NHS trusts have been told to find up to £20 billion in “efficiency savings”, which some campaigners say will lead to large cuts in patient services.

The survey found 24% of hospital doctors had been told redundancies were planned in their trust.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: “Despite the Government’s best assurances that frontline services will be protected, our data shows that cuts are already being planned or becoming reality and that these will have an impact on doctors’ ability to care for their patients.

“Even changes to “back-room” functions or administrative processes have consequences for frontline staff who, in many cases, may have to pick up the work themselves; this means less time for patients.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The coalition Government has been clear that the NHS budget is protected and will increase each year of Parliament.”