Tesco and BMW have been helping a Birmingham hospital improve its services to patients, its chief executive told Tony Blair yesterday.
Marc Britnell, who runs the city's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, found himself at the centre of a storm when he attended a breakfast summit in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister hosted the event to promote Government plans for greater links between hospitals and private business.
But the policy was slammed by union chiefs.
Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "The NHS is the jewel in the crown of our public services but is being floored by these ill-advised forays into the private sector."
Mr Britnell told the Prime Minister managers from the Queen Elizabeth had visited Tesco to study how their personnel department worked, and they had also shared ideas with BMW on ways of motivating staff.
The Government hopes public services such as Sainsbury's, Lloyds TSB and GlaxoSmithKline can help foundation hospitals, such as the Queen Elizabeth, push through changes to make them more efficient and improve financial management.
Birmingham chocolate manufacturer Cadbury is already signed up to take part.
The policy has been prompted by the introduction of financial reforms which mean hospitals are funded according to the amount of work they do, rather than receiving a fixed grant from the Treasury.
Mr Blair said: "We have got to get away from this notion of the battle of values.
"These are things that are either done well or badly. There's not a value issue about it. We need to make the best use of the transfer of expertise."
Mr Britnell backed the Prime Minister, but admitted it was sometimes difficult to convince Queen Elizabeth workers to accept change.
He said: "In my organisation we have just started a debate with the trade unions trying to link pay progression with patient satisfaction. You can imagine the objections from clinicians. We are not going to give up, but it is quite a difficult conversation."
Also taking part in the seminar was Clive Wilkinson, chair of Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham.
He said: "Our thinking is that we have to be very businesslike, but we are not a business.
"Our dividend is better health-care, not cash."