A think tank has called on the government to lift its “ringfence” on health spending.

Attempts to reform the NHS and innovate are being stifled because budgets are protected, according to the independent think tank Reform.

It claims the government has not made satisfactory progress since it came to power in 2010 in developing a more efficient and innovative NHS that cooperates effectively with social care.

Changes to the service had either stalled or gone backwards since the election, Reform argues, with growing pressure on hospital beds and increasing admissions to A&E.

While rising admissions to A&E departments have emerged as a major concern, the think tank says that the increase in the number of patients using alternatives such as walk-in centres has ceased.

On the issue of the relationship between the NHS and social care, it cites a statistic showing a 15 per cent rise in the number of days lost to delayed transfers from hospitals.

Reform also says that NHS spending increased by 94 per cent in real terms between 1999-2000 and 2009-10.

The NHS budget has been protected by the government in this parliament, with the health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently defending the policy ahead of next week’s Spending Review.

Mr Hunt has said the NHS budget should not be cut because demands on the service are increasing.

However, the chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and home secretary Theresa May have suggested in the run-up to the spending review that spending cuts can be a positive force in encouraging public services to change and improve.

Thomas Cawston, research director at Reform, said ministers are right in wanting the NHS to innovate so that it does not deteriorate in the future.

“Protecting the NHS budget, however, has meant that the service feels protected from the need to change,” he added.