NHS services will face huge cuts as health chiefs admit they have to save an unprecedented £77.6 million over the coming financial year.

Measures are being drawn up to scale back yet more services and change the way patients are treated – effectively meaning fewer people will be referred to hospital.

Millions will be sliced off budgets for elderly care, end of life services, hospital referrals and medication, raising fears healthcare in south Essex will be cut to the bone.

The health trust which serves Basildon and Thurrock, has now merged with its counterpart in Southend and Castle Point to make savings.

Together they saved £52million in order to end the 2010/11 financial year in the black – but this was as a result of a swathe of cuts to services being made. Now more are looming.

Despite having a combined budget of £1.2billion for the coming financial year, health bosses say their costs are rising at an alarming rate.

They must save a total of £117million over the next four years, with £77.6million having to be saved in this financial year –- 2011/2012.

Health bosses have now come up with a Quality Innovation, Productivity and Prevention programme to make savings.

Andrew Pike, the joint chief executive of NHS South East and NHS South West Essex, admitted significant changes are on the horizon. He said: “The programme challenge is an opportunity to redesign our services so they meet the needs of the population within the resources available.

“Much of this will be achieved by investing in community services and primary care and altering patient pathways so more care is given outside hospitals, closer to patients homes.

“We believe we can make future savings by changing the way we work, without compromising clinical care for those who need it, or outcomes for patients.”

Cuts to services across Basildon and Thurrock have included putting IVF treatment on ice, cutting medication for HIV, putting a ban on numerous minor operations such as tonsillectomies and ordering GPs to hand out less medication to avoid wastage.