NHS hospitals could carry out 280,000 more non-emergency operations a year by organising operating theatre schedules better, a new study suggests.
The research, which looked at data from 2016, found more than two hours were wasted each day on the average operating list.
The study says avoidable factors like late starts led to the loss of time.
The analysis, seen by the BBC ahead of publication, looked at theatres in 100 NHS Trusts in England.
A total of 1.64 million routine surgical procedures were carried out in 2016, including eye, ear, nose and throat operations and orthopaedic procedures.
The report, by regulator NHS Improvement, says it is not a question of getting surgeons to work harder.
Instead, planning lists more effectively and reducing late starts and early finishes would have made a big difference, it argues.
Working hard to eliminate last minute cancellations by better pre-op planning enabled one hospital to significantly improve its performance.
The health regulator is keen to get hospitals to make better use of their assets.
NHS Improvement’s Steve Russell says: “We hope this analysis will enable them to identify bottlenecks within their systems to ensure operations are scheduled more appropriately and more patients receive the care they need quickly.”
Resolving some of the causes of inefficiency could also be outside the scope of the NHS.
Some of the unused theatre time could be explained by problems finding beds for those who need to stay as in-patients.
Delayed transfers from hospital of medically fit patients because of shortcomings with social care have put pressure on bed capacity.
NHS Improvement’s study excluded all lists which were cancelled and ruled out any unused time which was less than average for a surgeon.
It also allowed for 5 per cent of time to be lost owing to last minute cancellations.
Source: BBC News