Unison has urged the government to stop what it called the “creeping” privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS).
The union criticised health secretary Alan Milburn for transforming a Bupa hospital into a fast-track surgery centre.
The Redwood Centre in Redhill, Surrey, an express surgery unit at the East Surrey Hospital, will offer an extra 5,000 operations a year for NHS patients.
Milburn said the hospital would be the first of 20 centres promised by 2004 in the NHS plan.
It would carry out routine operations such as hip and knee replacements that do not require long stays in hospital.
He also said the private sector’s role will continue to grow and people waiting for heart operations will be given the option to transfer to a non-NHS hospital if they have been waiting for more than six months, and the scheme will be extended to cover other conditions.
A spokesman for the GMB union said: “This amounts to a declaration of war. A few months ago, he was pledging the private sector would not be involved in frontline clinical care, yet today he is placing it at the forefront of NHS treatment. The government has got to get a grip.”