NHS workers from across Scotland have issued a stark warning about the future of the health service, saying "things cannot go on as they are" if it is to remain viable in the long term.

Nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and pharmacists met in Edinburgh yesterday and said a growing elderly population was placing an increasing burden on the NHS, while prices of new drugs and technology were putting already tight budgets under "extreme strain".

It is hoped that the findings of the summit will kick-start a dialogue with the public, civic groups and politicians about what needs to change if the future of the NHS is to be secured when they are published next month.

The meeting came as one of Scotland's top surgeons, Colin Howie, warned of "creeping privatisation" of the health service in Scotland, as a result of an increased reliance on sending patients to private hospitals as not enough NHS beds were available. A prominent A&E doctor, Martin McKechnie, warned that the entire health service was in crisis.

The Herald revealed recently that more than 800 operations had been cancelled over the first six weeks of the year alone due to pressure over beds caused by winter.

Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the BMA In Scotland, said: "We all agree that things cannot go on as they are. We will now use these proposals to take this debate forward with politicians and the public, with the clear message that the long term survival of the NHS is more important than short-term electoral cycles."

Ian Ritchie, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, called for an "honest debate" about the future of the NHS while Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, said she hoped a more collaborative approach would be adopted to address a series of issues.

Opposition MSPs called on the Scottish Government to address the concerns of those within the NHS. Labour health spokeswoman Jenny Marra said: "The experts are starting to speak out, and their verdict about the condition of our health service under the SNP is damning. This simply cannot go on. Our NHS deserves the support it needs to care for our sick and our infirm. NHS staff are overworked and overstretched. [Health Secretary] Shona Robison needs to get a grip on these problems now."

Meanwhile, Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said that not enough had been done to plan for the challenges caused by an ageing population.

"More and more experts and health workers are beginning to speak out about the very serious problems facing the NHS," he added. "These warnings must be heeded, because it's clear we cannot go on this way forever.

"The SNP must also acknowledge that it is making very good use of the independent sector - something it pretended to baulk at throughout the independence campaign."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scottish Government welcomes today's constructive discussions which centred around an inclusive outlook to tackling the future of health and social care in Scotland.

"This is in line with the Scottish Government's commitment to our 2020 Vision - which focuses on preventative healthcare and shifting more care into the community, as reinforced by the Health Secretary during a Parliamentary debate in January.

"As the Health Secretary outlined, we need an approach to health in Scotland that fits the 21st century. In order to do this it is imperative that we continue to work with health bodies, as we do on a regular basis, to drive forward this change."