Bupa has blasted government plans to stop newly qualified NHS consultants from carrying out private operations for seven years.
The largest private medical insurance (PMI) provider said the restriction on private medical work could wreck the government's partnership with private insurers and trigger higher waiting lists.
The government said the move was needed to safeguard and increase clinical standards in the NHS.
Dr Andrew Vallance Owen, group medical director of Bupa, said: “The proposal puts at risk the significant contribution that private insurers make to healthcare in the UK.
“It also has the potential to diminish the future ability of the private sector (through its partnership agreement) to take even more pressure off the NHS.”
One non-emergency operation in five is currently performed in the private sector, saving the NHS more than £1bn each year.
He stressed that without this contribution, NHS waiting lists could grow by up to 50%.
“The whole healthcare system benefits from the fact that consultants work across the NHS and private sectors,” he said.
Vallance Owen predicted that if consultants were eventually forced to choose between their NHS and private work, the former could suffer.
“If qualified doctors are not allowed to make a choice as to where they work, there is a risk to the NHS – people will not join the profession in the first place or not join the NHS or seek work overseas.”
However, Adrian Bull, medical director of PPP, questioned whether the block on new consultants working in PMI hospitals would affect the private sector or the NHS.
He said: “It may not be the case. Consultant numbers are not a limiting factor in the number of operations the NHS can do, as any shortfall could be taken up by other senior doctors.
He added that while some consultants could be directed to perform more work for the NHS, others may choose to do more private sector work.