Labour was last night facing charges of hypocrisy after criticising Government plans to export the NHS "brand" around the world and make money for hospitals back in the UK.
i yesterday revealed that ministers are to set up a new body to help hospitals to launch fee-paying branches overseas.
Labour described the plan as "rampant commercialisation" of the NHS and called for it to be scrapped.
However, it has now emerged that Gordon Brown's government tried to set up a profit-making arm called NHS Global to "maximise its international potential…and bring benefits back to the UK taxpayer". Its purpose was to "market valuable assets across the system overseas, ranging from innovative products and professional expertise to provision of NHS services and treatments". However it failed to take-off and was quietly scrapped.
Yesterday the Government accused Labour of "campaigning against its own policy". The Health Minister Anne Milton said: "Andy Burnham has sunk to a new low of political hypocrisy. He has jumped on every passing bandwagon – now he is attacking the ability of hospital doctors to raise money for NHS patients." But Jamie Reed, the Shadow Health Minister, said: ""Under David Cameron we're seeing a rampant commercialisation of the NHS. He needs to... start focusing on patients, not profits."
Under the new plans, hospitals will be encouraged to set up profit-making branches abroad to raise funds for patients at home and raise the international profile of the health service.
The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital managers, backed the new body, which would be called Healthcare UK. David Stout, deputy chief executive, said: "This is a real opportunity. I don't think this is about distorting what the NHS offers to UK citizens, this is about how we can exploit the brand of the NHS internationally."
The Patients' Association has raised concerns that pressing ahead with the plans to sell NHS services abroad could be a "distraction" at a time of upheaval in the health service.
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