Patients forced to wait 18 weeks for treatment on the NHS will be given a new legal right to receive it from the private sector.
According to The Times newspaper today, the move, agreed by the Cabinet earlier this week, will be rushed into law before the next general election, which is expected next spring.
It will be coupled with a further legal right for cancer patients to receive private treatment if they have not been seen by an NHS specialist within two weeks of referral.
They will be unveiled in next month's Queen's Speech, the last of the Parliament, and will see Labour take the fight to the Tories on public service "entitlements" ahead of the election.
The plans are hoped to prevent waiting lists increasing again as NHS budgets are curbed in future years.
Tory leader David Cameron, who has promised to abolish all NHS targets, will have to decide whether to repeal the new legal rights.
Former Health Secretary John Reid said: "I'm delighted with this move.
"Now that we have hugely reduced the waiting lists and have dramatically cut the waiting times, this is the next logical step in patient power.
"It will provide ordinary people with the right and the power to ensure that they get the service that they deserve and that their illness is treated in time.
"And if the standards are not being met they will have the right to have them provided by the medical resources that have always been available to those who are well off or well connected."