Nearly half of the work carried out in private hospitals will be for patients paid for by the National Health Service, the Prime Minister predicted yesterday.
Supporting the expansion of private provision in the health service, Mr Blair said that by 2008 40 per cent of private sector operations would be for NHS patients.
Mr Blair was speaking at a Downing Street meeting with NHS Partners Network, a new organisation made up of 11 companies commissioned by the Department of Health to provide diagnostic and treatment services in England.
Mark Smith, from Mercury Health and the chairman of the network, said: “For us, the sterile debate between public and private health care provision is over.
“Wherever people are treated it is their receipt of tax-funded health care, according to need and not ability to pay, which makes them NHS patients.”
At the same time, the Department of Health released figures showing that 250,000 people had been treated or tested on the NHS in new Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs) since they first opened three years ago.
Critics say the 21 ISTCs in England represent privatisation of the health service. NHS consultants, until recently barred from working in them, have questioned their quality and standards.