Labour could cut the number of hospital beds under its plans to merge health and social care, Andy Burnham has hinted.
The shadow health secretary was accused of "rank hypocrisy" after comments emerged indicating that cutting beds would help pay for his policy, which could even result in hospital closures.
The Sun on Sunday reported that Mr Burnham insisted treating the separate health and social care budgets as one would deliver much better results.
The comments emerged as Labour was preparing to reveal more details about its health and social care plans on Tuesday.
Ed Miliband has made the NHS a key plank of his election strategy and there have been bitter political rows in recent weeks between Labour and the Tories over health.
Mr Burnham's comments came in an interview with the Fabian Review magazine in 2013.
Asked about his project to provide to integrate NHS and social care system, Mr Burnham said: "Partly what I'd cut to pay for my policy are hospital beds.
"I'm very clear that we could get much better results for the current £120 billion we put into health and adult social care if we were to treat it as one budget.
"Some social care could be met for free from a much more preventative, home-based system."
When pressed that the logical knock-effect would be fewer hospitals, he replied: "We're definitely saying that none of this is sacrosanct. We're not going to be on every picket line opposing every closure."
Tory MP David Morris accused the shadow health secretary of "hypocrisy", telling the newspaper: "Andy Burnham has spent five years scaremongering about hospital cuts, but it now emerges he has been secretly planning to slash hospital beds all along.
"It's rank hypocrisy and he needs to come clean about the full scale of these worrying plans at a time when Brits are living longer and the population is rising."
A Labour spokesman said: "Labour wants to see patients avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital and stop record numbers of older people being trapped on wards - a root cause of David Cameron's A&E crisis."
"These words shouldn't be misinterpreted - Labour will invest an extra £2.5 billion each year in the NHS by taxing homes worth more than £2 million."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Andy Burnham has now worryingly admitted, as the first details of his plans to integrate health and social care emerge, that this is only paid for by cuts to much-needed hospital beds.
"Labour must urgently clarify the impact of this scheme on hospitals around the country."