The current financial squeeze on health services is only a “rehearsal” for a long-term push to make the NHS financially sustainable, efficiency chief Jim Easton said today.

Mr Easton was speaking at the HC2012 Health Informatics Congress in London today.

He said it was “factually not sustainable” for a service to cost an ever-increasing proportion of national gross domestic product.

“We are facing that problem now because of the effect of the economic crisis on this country, but that’s a rehearsal for what it will be our long-term job to do,” he said.

Mr Easton told delegates: “Our job over the next 20 years is to fight to protect the universal healthcare system in this country, but… we will not protect ourselves arguing for the status quo.

“It won’t protect it because it’s too expensive, and it won’t protect it because it’s not what we want in terms of care.”

And, he said: “The NHS Commissioning Board, having been made independent will want to set this out – how our healthcare can be protected, how we can have the thing we treasure – a universal health care system – in a changing world.

“The underpinning for that is systems of care for chronic disease, which put care back into peoples hands [so they can] manage their own care.”

Mr Easton lauded the NHS’s efforts in saving cash so far, which he said had delivered £7bn of savings while maintaining performance improvements on infection control and waiting times.

Now, he said: “We’re going to push really hard for integrated care. I value my hospital and GP but for goodness sake join it up.”

He also indicated that the long-delayed NHS Information Strategy would leave it to the IT industry to set standards for the use of informatics in healthcare.

He said: “The publication of the information strategy is not the cementing of the future. That would be a completely ludicrous response.

“What we’re trying to do is reflect the direct of travel post the national programme… that recognises this is a process in which standards for information will be changing all the time.”

Mr Easton added: “The mindset is to enable an industry to set standards which reflect the best in care – not from some remote centre.”