Four insurance companies will make bids for the nationwide contract to offer insurance for private pay-beds in NHS hospitals to the leaders of 73 hospital trusts.
Norwich Union is being tipped to replace Bupa, the private health insurance specialist, which pulled out of providing care for NHS pay-beds to concentrate on Bupa-backed private hospitals.
Tessa Jowell, Labour's health spokeswoman, said it was part of a "secret agenda" by the Government to switch most patients into private health schemes, leaving the rest to the NHS. The charge is strongly denied. Colin Brown