Community services are worried about the effect five years of district health board shortfalls could have on them.
The Canterbury District Health Board is currently in discussions with the Ministry
of Health over what can be done about its $35m budget deficit.
But a review of the CDHB finances found that was only the start of the expected financial problems, with budgets forecast to fall short each year until at least 2021.
Community services are now concerned about how any budget cuts might affect the community.
Canterbury Charity Hospital founder Philip Bagshaw said he already saw thousands of people in Christchurch who had minor surgery delayed, and he was worried that would grow worse if health budgets were tightened.
That would cost more money in the future, as people spent more time off work or simple problems developed complications because of delays, he said.
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton was concerned about the effect on elderly services, which were already strained because of Christchurch's ageing population.
But CDHB health board deputy chairman Steve Wakefield said the board members were dedicated to doing everything they could to protect the community from the effect of its shortfall.
He said they were currently in discussions with the Ministry of Health, hoping to get extra funding, but that was likely to need to happen again each year that the CDHB budget fell short.
"The Government has listened to us in the past, and the ministry does understand the unique elements of the situation," he said.
CDHB planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said both the funding and costs were expected to rise next year, when they forecast a shortfall of $29.5 million.
A shortfall in the budget for mental health services contributed to the shortfall this year.
The Government set a $150.7 million ring fence minimum which the CDHB must spend on mental health this year, but only provided $130.7 in mental health funding, although it gave an extra $5.48 million in March.
The Ministry of Health has commissioned Pricewaterhouse Coopers to review the CDHB's finances and find where it might be able to make budget cuts.
Mr Wakefield said he expected to see that report this week, but it was delayed. Once the health board received the report, it would sit down to discuss the next steps with the Ministry of Health, he said.