Administrative and management errors are leading to 623 hospital operations being cancelled every day, according to new figures from a Conservative MP.
Using the results of freedom of information requests from NHS hospitals across the country, Grant Shapps has revealed that 162,500 operations were cancelled for this reason last year - a 25 per cent rise over the past three years.
The most common causes are the loss of patient notes, miscommunication between departments, administrative booking errors and the failure to inform patients by letter.
But more than 7,700 operations were also cancelled last year because equipment was missing or unclean, an increase of a third in four years.
"As the government continues to heap Whitehall targets on local NHS managers, priorities continue to get skewed in our hospitals," said Mr Shapps, the MP for Welwyn Hatfield.
He added: "What could be worse than mentally and physically preparing yourself for an operation - frequently starving yourself the day before - only to arrive at the hospital to discover that your operation has been cancelled?"
However, a spokesman for the Department of Health insisted that although it did not collect official cancellation figures from all NHS trusts, it did collect data on last minute operations - and these showed cancellations had fallen by 20 per cent since 2002.
"The total number of last-minute cancelled operations - those that cause the most distress to patients - fell to under 61,000 last year, despite a rise in activity," he said.
"We don't collect data on all cancelled operations to minimise the burden on the NHS, but [today's] figure is based on extrapolations from just 62 trusts so should be treated with caution."
Mr Shapps' figures come as ministers are being forced to justify to opposition parties and health professionals the results of their huge NHS investment, amid reports of job cuts, closing wards and deficits totaling more than £520 million.
They reveal that the number of operations cancelled because of lack of beds has dropped from 74,000 to just under 40,000 in the last four years, while there has also been a decline in those called off because of staff shortages, from 42,000 to 39,000.