Health secretary Alan Milburn's decision to bring in consultants from Virgin Atlantic to advise the NHS on making hospitals more consumer friendly has been greeted with scepticism.

Virgin began visits to 12 hospitals a month ago, to collect ideas which will form the basis of a report for ministers in August. It is working on a non-profit basis, charging the NHS£35,000.

Peter Griffiths, chief executive of the Health Quality Service, dismissed the initiative as a 'not terribly helpful gimmick'.

A spokeswoman for the NHS Confederation said 'fresh ideas' were welcome, but emphasised the need for ideas to be backed with investment.

Stuart Marples, chief executive of the Institute of Healthcare Management, said the 'eye catching' idea was unlikely to deliver lasting benefits: 'Most people will recognise a gap between a transatlantic flight and an inner city A&E department on a Saturday night.'