Frequent increases in the real value of National Health Service (NHS) patient charges have been made since the Conservative Party's return to office in 1979. For those patients subject to these charges the increases have led to a substantial reduction in the level of subsidization of the cost of the service. The rationale for the subsidization of health care is shown to be unrelated to ‘ability to pay’ considerations. Consequently the ‘backdoor privatization’ of these services is inconsistent with the objectives of the NHS even though the Government has continually committed itself to these objectives. Alternative policies to increasing patient charges are suggested which would encourage the efficient use of NHS resources without compromising NHS objectives.