Politicians have expressed concern that a free NHS may be unsustainable if challenges facing the health service are not addressed.

A cross-section survey of 100 MPs, conducted on behalf of the NHS Confederation, reveals that 48 per cent fear an NHS ‘free at the point of need’ could soon be consigned to the history books if no action is taken.

NHS Confederation chief executive Rob Webster said: “The resounding message from this survey is clear - we need an open and honest apolitical conversation between the public, patients, politicians and those delivering healthcare across our communities, about the future challenges facing the NHS.”

He continued: “We must then all support each other to drive forward the changes needed to ensure we can deliver a 21st century NHS where we have the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

“Our 2015 Challenge seeks to do just this - supporting politicians with the evidence and seeking to engage the public. To safeguard an NHS free at the point of need we all have a responsibility to meet the challenges facing our health and care system head-on - with everyone playing a part.”

The survey also suggests 81 per cent of MPs believe the NHS in their constituency needs to change to meet the needs of patients in the future.

Despite this, 65 per cent said there was insufficient political will to permit change, while 25 per cent said they would not back changes to their local NHS if their constituents opposed the proposals.