A recent change to the ongoing health bill could allow NHS hospitals to use nearly a half of their hospital beds for private patients.
In 2003, the Labour government placed a cap on the amount of income that hospitals can raise from private patients, following the setting up of foundation hospitals. Foundation hospitals have more freedom when it comes to running their services and all NHS hospitals are due to become foundation hospitals by 2014.
The cap on the income which a foundation hospital is allowed to generate from private patients is currently at about 2%, although some specialist hospitals are permitted a higher level.
The coalition government hope that by removing the cap, the hospitals will be able to generate much more income that will in turn benefit NHS patients as a whole.
However, a spokesperson from Labour suggested that the move could lead to the NHS becoming more like the US style commercial system, potentially ‘putting profits ahead of people’.
Other critics of the move suggest that it could force many hospitals with large financial deficits into taking on more private work, particularly in the current financial climate where the health service is trying to make significant efficiency savings. This could leave many NHS patients facing a poorer quality service and longer waiting lists.
However, supporters of the move point out that the Royal Marsden specialist hospital, which makes nearly a third of its income through private healthcare, is currently rated as one of the best NHS providers.