Patients are more likely to survive heart and cancer operations if the knife is wielded by a busy surgeon.

A study in the United States of 474,000 patients showed that surgeons who did 100 coronary artery bypasses a year had a death rate 36 per cent higher than that of busy surgeons, who performed more than 162 operations a year.

For pancreatic cancer, surgeons who did fewer than two operations a year had a death rate 260 per cent higher than those who did more than four a year.

Bruce Keogh, a cardiac surgeon at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, said the findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, would increase pressure for individual details of surgeons' performance to be published.

"I think it is perfectly reasonable for patients to ask surgeons about their record. Most know their results and aren't embarrassed to tell them. Patients have to trust their surgeons," he said.