Health insurance news - NHS hospital beds to be used by private health insurance patients
Private medical insurance customers will be able to use NHS hospitals in England under new government plans.
Part of an amendment made to the Health and Social Care Bill shortly before Christmas, public sector institutions will be free to give up almost half of their beds and theatre time to private patients.
According to the BBC, health secretary Andrew Lansley said that NHS patients would see a direct benefit of lifting the private income cap - which is currently around two per cent for most foundation trusts.
"If these hospitals earn additional income from private work that means there will will be more money available to invest in NHS services," he said in a statement.
Mr Lansley added that patients who use the public health service will be further safeguarded because "foundation hospitals' core legal duty will be to care for them".
However, Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary, warned that allowing private insurance customers to use public hospitals could mean longer waits for NHS patients.
He said that it further demonstrated the Conservative's plan to create a "US-style commercial system", with bigger profits being put ahead of patients' wellbeing.
Labour had introduced a cap on the amount of money hospitals can make from private patients in 2003. This has prevented hospitals from expanding their private work beyond the amount they had nine years ago.
Under the new regulations, a much higher limit will be set on the amount of private work foundations trusts can take on. The BBC reports that the Royal Marsden, which currently has a cap of around 30 per cent, is rated as one of the best NHS hospitals. It makes around a third of its income from private patients.
MPs had earlier this year debated how private money should be spent in the NHS, with Lib Dem Andrew George claiming that ministers did not "fully understand" the consequences of allowing NHS hospitals more private income.