The health service should do about 120,000 more operations a year under a plan to expand the use of day surgery units outlined by the Government yesterday.
John Hutton, a Health minister, pledged £68m to the centres, at which patients have an operation without staying over-night in hospital. The Government also announced a £39m investment to form 10 more fast-track diagnosis and treatment centres in the next two years, bringing their total to 19. These units, covering areas such as ophthalmology and orthopaedics as well as some general surgery, should be able to treat an extra 25,000 extra cases a year, he said.
In addition, the Department of Health unveiled 100 schemes that will be given £22m of funding to improve access to primary care services. This should speed up the development of one-stop primary care centres designed to put GPs, dentists, opticians, health visitors and pharmacists under one roof.
The £68m announced for day surgery will be used to pay for new equipment, building work, staff and electronic booking systems.
Mr Hutton said day surgery was a way of making the NHS more efficient and more convenient for patients.
Building the 10 new diagnostic and treatment centres would, he said, "make a massive contribution to the rapid and large-scale capacity increase required in the NHS". The one-stop centres and schemes to improve doctors surgeries would also improve people's access to primary care services, Mr Hutton said.
"This programme of investment will enable doctors to perform more operations every year. It will also bring reforms to the way health care is delivered. Patients will be treated in modern, high-quality facilities with the latest equipment and the best-trained staff. Waiting times will be reduced. Patients will be the winners."
The Liberal Democrats warned before the announcement that any expansion of day surgery should not threaten in-patient operations.
Dr Evan Harris, the party's health spokesman, said: "Day surgery units are a good idea for those who are eligible. They were a good idea five years ago, so it is a shame it has taken so long for them to be established." But he added: "If day-case surgery is expanded at the expense of in-patient surgery then the system will be less fair on those who are older, sicker or less mobile."