An NHS trust has set up an advertising agency to sell billboard space around its hospitals and on its website.
Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust hopes to earn £1m in five years and will offer the service to other trusts. The Patients Association condemned the move yesterday as an example of the creeping commercialisation of the NHS.
Ads will be vetted for suitability and will not include unhealthy foods, alcohol, funeral directors or accident-compensation companies.
Acceptable examples could include health-related products such as Stannah stairlifts and Benecol, the cholesterol-lowering margarines and yoghurts, a spokesperson for the trust said.
It is believed to be the first time an NHS trust has launched an advertising venture, though many trusts receive advertising income. The agency, Campus Media Solutions, is being jointly launched by the trust and its partner Big Brand Media, according to the medical newspaper Hospital Doctor.
The trust runs Addenbrooke's Hospital and a maternity hospital, has 1,000 beds and employs 7,000 people.
A spokesman said: "Our priority is to treat people who are sick. That is what we are here for. If we can make some money and put it back into patient care, that is what we want to do."
But Katherine Murphy, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "It is more evidence of how commercialised the NHS is becoming. It is a huge concern. The core purpose of the NHS is to make the sick better. This is distracting and moves the NHS away from the values of caring. Patients and the public don't view the NHS as an organisation promoting commercial ends... We are deeply concerned by this development."