Patients waiting for orthopaedic operations will be able to choose to have their operation at any acute trust, foundation trust, or independent sector provider in the next few months.

Patients waiting for orthopaedic operations will be able to choose to have their operation at any acute trust, foundation trust, or independent sector provider in the next few months.

Speaking at a King's Fund conference on Tuesday, health secretary Patricia Hewitt confirmed that orthopaedic patients would soon be offered 'free choice', in order to ensure the NHS met its
18-week waiting target by 2008.

She added that patients waiting for other services would also be gradually offered free choice. At the commissioning new providers conference, Ms Hewitt called on commissioners to 'overcome their prejudices'.

'We will not get best value and choice if primary care trusts and GPs are not open to new ideas, only look at price, or impose their ideas of what is viable,' she said.

Ms Hewitt warned she 'did not want to see any activity that places the well-being of an organisation above the well-being of patients'.

She also acknowledged that some acute trusts would not make it as standalone foundation trusts. 'There will be further proposals for acquisitions or possible mergers between trusts with foundation trusts', she said.

The health secretary added that foundations could also take over the running of acute trusts outside their own locality. Asked if the private sector would be allowed to take over failing acute trusts she said it may happen in time but the NHS is 'not at that point yet'.