A £750 million Government lifeline to help save closure-threatened community hospitals has been condemned by Midland campaigners as an attempt to get "more PFI schemes in through the back door".
The announcement comes after plans to close three smaller hospitals in Shropshire were scrapped last March.
Primary care trusts (PCTs) will be invited to bid for money and can use the cash to improve services, build new community hospitals or convert old acute sites.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, who announced the plan to fund "a new generation of community hospitals", said private firms would be invited to invest in their future.
She said: "We will invest £750 million over the next five years in the development of a new generation of community hospitals.
"We are also opening up new sources of cash for small community hospitals, as we look to tackle historic funding shortages.
"Private companies or public private partnerships will be encouraged to invest capital into these services for the NHS to buy."
But Malcolm Cooper, former chairman of North Worcestershire Health Authority claimed this did not address what would happen to the 80 or so community hospitals currently facing closure.
"I think this could be a way of getting more PFI schemes in through the back door," he said.
"Too many vital health services have already been off-loaded to local authorities and now to the private sector.
"After protests, like those in Shropshire, the Government have now bowed to public pressure but it's still unclear what will happen to the 80 or so community hospitals under threat of closure.
"Surely the plan cannot be to close these and replace them with new hospitals?"
There are more than 300 community hospitals in England, but campaigners have said nearly a third are under threat.
Community hospitals are designed to offer quick access to medical checks, day surgery and out-of-hours doctor services, all close to a patient's home.
In the future, the Government hopes they will act as centres for procedures such as biopsies and a wider range of minor operations, as well as centres for providing chemotherapy.
But Wyre Forest MP Dr Richard Taylor, who was elected on a "health concern" platform after protests against the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital in 2001, described the Government offer as cynical.
The former GP said: "On paper the Government has promised £750 million to support these hospitals, but this is capital funding rather than revenue which means PCTs have to apply for it.
"What these hospitals really need is more revenue but to find any extra money when faced with deficits and top-slicing to fund the NHS Bank is very difficult, so to offer a capital 'gift' is rather a cynical move.
"They may have the Government's commitment on paper but they won't step in to bail out PCTs with revenue to help run these hospitals. I think it's too early to say what the future will be, or whether these marvellous hospitals will survive."
In addition to the promised funding, the Government will issue new guidance to trusts to prevent any unnecessary "rush" to close community hospitals.
Barbara Moore, chief executive of the Community Hospitals Association (CHA), welcomed the announcement.
She said: "The additional funding will assist many local communities to realise their aspirations to create or update buildings to accommodate local services that are as diverse as the communities they serve.
"The CHA also welcomes the commitment to prevent unnecessary closures of community hospitals."