Frontline NHS services should not be spared from measures to tackle the economic deficit, according to a “citizen’s jury” set up by business consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The 24-strong panel said the government should “be fair and share the pain”. It also called for a reform of public sector pay and pensions, for example, by implementing a pay freeze and bringing public sector pensions in line with the private sector.

The coalition government still has a huge job to do in order to engage and inform the public

The jury made up of a “broadly representative” sample of the public from across the Midlands was convened by PwC last month at Warwick University.

The jury spent three and half days debating and discussing ideas on areas for savings, and were given presentations by financial experts. Members were surveyed on their views on the financial squeeze before and after the event.

Before the debate started, 79 per cent of the jury agreed that NHS spending should be ring-fenced. Afterwards, this had reversed with 91 per cent wanting to remove the ring-fence.

PwC partner and government and public sector leader Jon Sibson said: “A key jury verdict was that no public spending area should remain protected from scrutiny given the scale of the challenge ahead. The jury was adamant there should be no ‘sacred cows’, including expenditure on the NHS and international development.”

Other ideas mooted on dealing with the deficit included delaying payment of the state pension to 67, tighter means testing of child benefit, winter fuel allowances and other benefits and tighter controls over benefit fraud and immigration.

But Mr Sibson said the main conclusion from the event was that the general public were not currently equipped with enough information to make informed decisions on the financial challenge ahead.

He said: “The coalition government still has a huge job to do in order to engage and inform the public on the deficit and understand how citizens want them respond to it. The experience of the citizens’ jury shows that the public is hungry for knowledge on the deficit but current communications around the fiscal consolidation have yet to hit the mark.”

PwC also carried out a separate poll of 1,780 people which revealed that less than a third had a good understanding of the deficit, the reasons for it or the level of cuts to deal with it.