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Up to half of 160,000 NHS beds could be turned over to private patients
*  Ministers forced to reveal their private ambitions for the NHS
*  Health Bill will turn England's hospitals into American-style hospitals
Labour today reveals the full extent of David Cameron's ambitions to turn NHS hospitals into private businesses, pitting one against another in a competitive market.

In a move that will send shock-waves around the NHS, the Government is seeking to amend its own Health Bill to allow NHS hospitals to devote up to 50% of their beds and theatre time to private patients, replacing Labour's stringent private-patient cap.

The free-market plan will give patients and the public the clearest sign yet of how the character of England's NHS will change if the Government's Bill gets through Parliament in early 2012. It will open the door to an explosion of private work in NHS hospitals.

Labour believes that this plan - coupled with other measures in the Health Bill - will result in lengthening waiting lists for NHS patients. The Government's relaxation of NHS waiting time targets means hospitals are free to devote more theatre time to private patients. And they will have a clear incentive to do so and maximise income, with the move to full financial independence and a "no bail-outs" culture where hospitals in financial trouble are allowed to go bust with no Government help.

It is a decisive move away from Labour's planned NHS system where NHS patients were always the priority. The message sent out to hospitals and health service managers by the 50% cap is that private patients can be given equal priority.

Labour's limit on private work allows private patients to be treated on the margins of NHS work, with income - typically capped at around 2% of turnover - reinvested to the benefit of the health service.

Andy Burnham MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said:

"This surprise move, sneaked out just before Christmas, is the clearest sign yet of David Cameron's determination to turn our precious NHS into a US-style commercial system, where hospitals are more interested in profits than people.
"With NHS hospitals able to devote half of their beds to private patients, people will begin to see how our hospitals will never be the same again if Cameron's Health Bill gets through Parliament.
"This free-market NHS re-organisation opens the door to an explosion of private work in the NHS, meaning longer waits for NHS patients. It takes us straight back to the bad old days of the Tory NHS, when the only choice patients had was to wait longer or pay to go private.
"Andrew Lansley was forced to reveal this 50% figure in an attempt to calm nerves in the Lords about his Health Bill. But, in doing so, he has only succeeded in bringing home to the public the full implications of his dangerous and flawed plans. What other free-market plans has he got in mind that he's not telling us about?
"Time is running out for the NHS but it's not too late. If public and professions stand together, we can stop this Americanisation of the NHS. If people want to do one thing to help the NHS this Christmas, they should take just a moment to sign the 'Drop the Bill' e-petition.
"Our arrogant Prime Minister needs to be reminded that nobody voted for this re-organisation and that he doesn't have a mandate to privatise England's precious NHS."

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