Prime Health managing director Mike Hall this week welcomed comments from Prime Minister Tony Blair that private hospitals should be used when required by the NHS.

Addressing health specialists on BBC2's Newsnight programme, the prime minister said: "There is absolutely no ideological barrier to using private beds. If there is a policy that prevents this, it should be removed and I will look into this."

Hall said of Blair's comments: "We are delighted by this policy shift by the

Government, which we hope heralds a new era of co-operation between the private and public healthcare sectors."

Hall believes that the NHS is unsustainable without private support, and called for a debate between the private and public sectors to find a way of working together in the future.

A recent study commissioned by Prime Health found that 40% of respondents would be more likely to vote for a political party that admitted the NHS cannot be expected to keep pace with the increasing demands made on it.