Cancer patients may have to pay for some treatments if long-term high-quality NHS care is to be maintained, experts have suggested.

There could be “potential rationing of high-value treatments” without such charges, they argue.

NHS hospital cancer specialist, Ajay Aggarwal, said: “New approaches to paying for cancer care need to be found.”

Dr Aggarwal and Richard Sullivan, director of the Institute of Cancer Policy at King’s College London, have authored a research paper into healthcare system sustainability.

It says “user charges could provide a potential means of sustaining spending proportional to the projected rise in the number of cancer cases” in the wake of “stagnating NHS budgets”.

There are insufficient radiotherapy machines to meet demand in the UK and cancer drug costs are spiralling rapidly, the pair claim. An additional 147 machines will be needed by 2016 at a total cost of £205.8m.

The report also claims some cancer drugs that are widely available in Europe and the US are being refused in the UK because it is said they are not cost-effective.

The report claims that patients are already paying for dental and optical treatment, besides prescriptions, and that every NHS service could include some kind of payment.

This would exempt those on low incomes, the elderly, children and people with certain medical conditions, the study suggests.

The report concludes: “User charges could provide the key to long-term sustainability of high-quality cancer care in the UK.”

The paper is published in the Journal of Cancer Policy.