Doctors.net.uk, a professional networking site, found that 593 (54%) of the 1,096 doctors who took part in the self-selecting survey answered yes when asked: “Should the NHS be allowed to refuse non-emergency treatments to patients unless they lose weight or stop smoking?”

One doctor said that denying in-vitro fertilisation to childless women who smoked was justified because it was only half as successful for them. Another said the NHS was right to expect an obese patient or alcoholic to change their behaviour before they underwent liver transplant surgery.

Dr Tim Ringrose, Doctors.net.uk’s chief executive, said the findings represented a significant shift in doctors’ thinking brought on by the NHS in England’s need to save £20bn by 2015. “This might appear to be only a slim majority of doctors in favour of limiting treatment to some patients who fail to look after themselves, but it represents a tectonic shift for a profession that has always sought to provide free healthcare from the cradle to the grave,” he said.

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