Private medical insurance companies are paying corporate client employees up to £200 a night to use the NHS. The bizarre situation has emerged as a response to the escalating costs of private healthcare.

By encouraging staff to think twice before choosing private care over their local NHS service, insurers such as Bupa save costs and help clients to curb soaring premiums. At a maximum £200 a night, the NHS payment is well below the £1,000 cost of a night in a typical private hospital.

Senior staff at the BBC, a Bupa client, received a letter warning that there had been a surge in claims for private treatment, and the BBC was struggling to cope with demand. It reminded staff that there was a £200-a-night payment for those opting to use an NHS hospital.

William Laing, chief executive of Laing and Buisson, a private health consultancy, said companies faced with rising premiums were looking for ways to keep costs down.

"It gives staff an incentive to think carefully before they use the cover. In each case you use individuals' motivation to save money or control costs."

A BBC spokesman denied it was offering cash inducements for NHS use. "The BBC offers senior managers the option of enrolling in a private insurance plan. Should they choose to enrol, communication regarding benefits then takes place directly between the private insurer and the employee."

Fiona Harris, Bupa's head of strategy development, said the change gives clients more choice: "Companies don't buy private medical insurance and then hope their staff will use the NHS. But there will be instances where staff use the NHS - maybe because it is just as convenient – and then they can get the cash benefit.'"