Healthcare leaders have criticised the political class for treating the NHS as a “political football” instead of engaging in a meaningful debate about its future.

The claim comes in a report compiled by the NHS Confederation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Healthcare Financial Management Association and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management.

This finds that the balance between rising demand for services and static levels of funding “cannot be maintained”.

Parties talk about rising demand for services, with no additional money available to spend, but are quick to criticise planned service changes or instances when patients’ expectations are not met, the report adds.

Politicians must instead have an “open discussion” with the public about the level of funding available for the NHS and the quality and scope of services that they can realistically expect.

“The NHS…finds itself trapped between patients who want more care, and want that care to be better than ever, and HM Treasury, nominally representing the taxpayer, which wants public spending constrained at a time of economic pressure,” the report states.

“As such, the NHS can be a political football between those that want to emphasise the need to contain spending and those that want to place blame where patient expectations are not met, without identifying how those goals might be connected.”