Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday pledged to give not-for-profit organisations an expanded role in running NHS maternity services.
He outlined a series of measures to achieve this, including more service provision by voluntary organisations.
"We will allow any provider, whether from the NHS, the not-for-profit or the independent sector, to offer maternity services, provided they can do so within the NHS price and at NHS standards," he said.
"In particular, the not-for-profit sector is often better at providing antenatal and postnatal care. Having a proper funding system for this should support these providers and encourage new maternity units to open."
Anne Fox, head of campaigns and public policy at parenting charity NCT, said: "This sounds like an interesting proposal and we'd like to see further details of how it will be worked out.
"Some services have already been tendered out to not-for-profit organisations. For example, NCT already provides antenatal classes and breastfeeding support for the NHS in certain areas.
"But some maternity services, such as screening, intrapartum and postnatal care, are not yet available to provider markets, so this might increase the range of maternity services and open up choice."