NHS hospitals are to be banned from cutting costs by setting minimum waiting times and rationing certain treatments following a damning expose of "scandalous" practices, the Government announced.
An investigation earlier this year found waiting times were being deliberately extended in some areas so that patients would go private or die before they were seen to slash costs.
The study by the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP), commissioned by ministers, also uncovered arbitrary spending caps that meant patients were denied treatments such hip replacements and cataract removals.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the cost-cutting methods would be banned from the end of March - with Primary Care Trust (PCT) bosses potentially facing the sack if they breached the new rules.
PCTs are due to be abolished in April 2013 under the Government's controversial NHS reforms - with decisions on treatment transferred to commissioning groups.
"For too long, Labour turned a blind eye to unfair practices within the NHS which harmed patients," Mr Lansley said.
"No right-thinking person could possibly understand how anyone could delay a patient's treatment unnecessarily. If patients need treatment, they should get it as soon as possible, and where they choose. "That is why we're taking action against those Primary Care Trusts which are behaving in this way. …