Managers of private hospitals could be brought in to run failing NHS hospitals under a plan reportedly backed by prime minister Gordon Brown.
According to the Times, more rigorous standards of quality, safety and financial management could be introduced to make it easier for poor performers to be dismissed and replaced by managers from the private sector.
Health minister Ben Bradshaw confirmed that allowing the private sector to take over the running of a whole hospital in the form of a franchise is "one of the options that would be included in this performance regime".
Speaking to Channel 4 News, he said: "What we know from our experience of involvement in other parts of the health service is that the private sector can bring different skills, different management skills, different techniques."
Some 20 trusts are thought to be possible candidates for private management as these were labelled "weak" by a recent Healthcare Commission report, the BBC claims.
The government has already used private hospitals and clinics to help cut NHS waiting times.