John Reid, the Health Secretary, will create a storm of protest next week when he visits Washington to take hints from one of America's biggest providers of private health care on how to run the NHS more efficiently.

Dr Reid's visit to a hospital run by Kaiser Permanente will underline his belief that a Labour government should not allow ideological hostility to private health care to hinder the search for ways to cut the NHS's administrative costs.

"Just because we in Britain reject the insurance-based health system run by private providers doesn't mean that we cannot learn lessons from how such systems operate elsewhere," he said.

The visit has been condemned by former health secretary Frank Dobson, who said: "Very few people would think of going to America to learn how to improve the NHS. Kaiser doesn't treat the very old, the very ill or the unemployed. They don't cover the whole population, they cover the insured population."

But Professor Chris Ham, who heads the Department of Health's strategy unit and will accompany Dr Reid to the US, is convinced that the NHS can learn from Kaiser's methods, particularly its system of home visits and rehabilitation.