Surgeons are “kicking their heels” because of delays to operations caused by a shortage of beds, two health groups have warned.
The “shocking waste” of surgeons’ time is partly down to the lack of social care for elderly patients outside hospitals, they said.
Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, blamed cuts aimed at driving productivity for causing greater inefficiency in some areas.
In a letter to the Sunday Times, they said: “Because of bed shortages, staff including surgeons are now sometimes left kicking their heels, waiting for beds to become available so they can operate.
“Too often managers, nurses and doctors waste time trying to find somewhere to look after patients. At a time when the NHS is being told to make the most of its resources, this is a shocking waste.”
Bed occupancy should not exceed 85% for safety reasons, but overnight inpatient beds were routinely 89% occupied, they said.
“This is partly because there is not enough social care capacity to look after our frail older patients in the community, so increasingly they cannot be discharged from hospital,” they added.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has admitted performance in elements of the NHS was “completely unacceptable”. His comments came after figures emerged showing that numbers of A&E patients seen within the target of four hours fell to a record low of 86% in December.