The government has rejected a warning by the new leader of Britain’s doctors that the health of NHS patients was being put at risk because they were being denied access to operations and drugs.

Mark Porter, the British Medical Association’s recently elected chair of council, said rationing of access to procedures not considered to be worthwhile meant the NHS could no longer be considered a “comprehensive service”.

In an interview with The Guardian, he said local restrictions would become increasingly widespread as the financial squeeze on the health service intensified.

“You see it happening in examples now, but it’s when it becomes service-wide in a few years time, if the current policies continue, that the population will notice in the wider sense,” he said.

“It’s no longer a comprehensive service. We can see the effect of people to whom we have to say ‘I’m sorry, this treatment is no longer available’.”

Dr Porter also condemned the practice of offering financial incentives to some GPs’ surgeries if they sent fewer patients for tests and treatment in hospital.

“It’s morally wrong and professionally wrong,” he said. “Doctors’ minds should be on what’s best for the patient, not on whether the PCT [primary care trust] will sub them for certain types of financial behaviour.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the public should “sit up and take notice” of what Dr Porter was saying and rally to the defence of the NHS.

“Just as Labour predicted, the N in NHS is now under sustained attack,” he said.

“Doctors warned David Cameron that his reforms would lead to increased rationing of treatments, an accelerating postcode lottery and widespread privatisation of services.

“The prime minister arrogantly waved them away but, as Dr Porter identifies, these fears are fast becoming a reality.”

However the Department for Health insisted the government’s reforms to the NHS in the Health and Social Care Act were designed to safeguard the future of the service.

“Last year we made it clear that it is unacceptable for the NHS to impose blanket bans for treatment on the basis of costs. That is why we banned PCTs from putting caps on the number of people who could have certain operations,” a spokesman said.

“The NHS is treating more people and we are increasing the NHS budget in real terms - investing an extra £12.5 billion in the NHS over the course of this parliament.

“But the NHS can and must be more efficient and we are already seeing results - the NHS made £5.8 billion in savings in 2011-12 while keeping waiting times low, performing more diagnostic tests and planned operations, and reducing infections even further.

“The NHS is showing that it can meet the financial challenge set.”