One of Britain's best hospitals is facing fines of more than £500,000 a month from April because it is too popular.
The hospital, a specialist orthopaedic centre in Shropshire, has regularly topped league tables for the quality of its clinical care.
But its popularity has meant it has come bottom of the league for the length of its waiting list as patients have flocked to the hospital.
Now, a new Government drive to rid the NHS of excessively long waits for treatment means that hospitals will be fined £5,000 a month for each patient who has waited more than a year. The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic NHS Foundation Trust, which specialises in spinal surgery, has 101 patients who have waited more than a year for their operations .
If it does not reduce the number before April, it will face fines of £505,000 a month. It is also the worst performer in England on patients waiting longer than 18 weeks, the official NHS limit, with almost two thirds delayed beyond this period. In surveys, patients have rated it the best for doctor's hygiene, ward cleanliness, the quality of its food and the provision of single sex accommodation, as well as the quality of care.
Val Doyle, director of operations at the hospital, said plans were in place to "increase activity" over the next three months to clear the long waiters and they were currently "on target." There was a "national problem" with waiting times for spinal surgery, she added.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "It is not acceptable for patients who require an operation to have to wait for more than a year.
"Hospitals where demand exceeds its capacity should look at options to develop capacity in order to deal with that demand."
Other hospitals facing hefty fines from April include King's College Hospital, London, which could have to pay £685,000 a month