The NHS has spent millions of pounds sending patients to private hospitals so that it meets government targets on reducing waiting lists.
Virtually all health authorities have bid for extra waiting list cash under plans involving the use of private hospitals.
The largest amounts have been spent in London where the shortage of staff, especially specialist nurses, is acute.
The money has paid for patients to receive treatment in private clinics including Harley Street, where coronary artery bypass grafts have been given to patients unable to find space at NHS hospitals.
Commenting on the government’s new policy, an East London and City Health Authority spokeswoman, said: “There is a great shortage of theatre staff across London, so we had no choice but to send them privately.