A £100M fund to provide 4,000 extra heart operations will be announced today as part of the Government's promise to reduce waiting lists and increase patient choice.
From July, every patient waiting more than six months for life-saving heart surgery will be given the option of treatment in an NHS hospital, or surgery in a private or overseas hospital if that would be quicker.
The scheme, to be announced by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, marks the first step towards giving heart patients a choice over where they are treated.
The 60-plus NHS hospitals that offer cardiac surgery will have first say on whether they can provide more operations. Ministers say the £100m on offer will give hospitals an incentive to increase capacity.
Next week, the Department of Health will also invite bids from private and foreign hospitals to do heart operations for NHS patients.
The bids will be handled by a new clearing house, to be called the National Cardiac Co-ordination Unit, which will vet the bids to ensure they provide value for money and a high standard of clinical care.
It will also hold information on where spare capacity is available, to direct patients to the hospitals with the shortest waits.
The centre will provide 40 advisers to help patients make a decision on where they want to have surgery and give assistance with travel plans and accommodation for relatives.