Lord Clarke, who was Health Secretary under then-PM Margaret Thatcher, claimed the controversial prospect of charging some patients was now reasonable given the current crisis.
The two-tier idea goes against the very founding principal of the health service, in that treatment should be provided free at the point of delivery or all, whatever their means.
His comments come as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the Government had not left it too late to take action on easing pressure on the NHS.
Lord Clarke, speaking on Times Radio, said he would have ‘reacted ferociously’ to the idea of charging well-off Brits to use some NHS services but the current crisis facing the health service had partly changed his mind.
He said: ‘As health demands of the population, an aging population, get ever higher, and more expensive, it’s taking up an ever-increasing amount of GDP.
‘We may have to look at some means of making the better off patients making some modest contribution to their healthcare.’
He pointed to the current prescription charges in England for most people, with pensioners and those on low incomes exempt, as an example of a system that could be expanded.
Lord Clarke said a similar means test, with exemptions, which could see wealthier Brits charged a flat fee to attend a GP appointment or some routine NHS operations, could help fund the health service.
We can’t rule it out,’ he said.
However, he added he was not yet fully ‘converted’ of the merits of this system and said it would need far more research before implementation.
Lord Clarke also ruled out the prospect of introducing a US-style health insurance system in the UK, saying he remained ‘flatly opposed’ to the idea.
The current crisis in the NHS, fuelled by a multitude of factors, including record levels of bed-blockers, sky-high rates of flu and a resurgence of Covid, has led to inhumane waits in emergency departments.