Savings of up to £5 billion per year could be achieved by 2020 through the more efficient use of NHS resources, according to the findings of an interim report by Lord Carter.
With the Conservative government keen to press ahead with plans for a seven-day NHS, these savings will be key to an effective transition to the new service while ensuring standards of care continue to rise.
The report states that the savings can be achieved by making better use of staff, using medicines more effectively and getting better value from the huge number of products that the NHS procures.
In particular, the government wishes to see lessons learnt by hospitals that are not being as efficient as they could be across all areas of their work and could therefore make bigger gains for patients.
Measures that could lead to greater efficiencies include better management of staff, rotas and shifts; optimising the medicines used in hospitals; improving the management of annual leave and sickness absence; and reducing the number of product lines of everyday consumables that the NHS uses from more than 500,000 to less than 10,000.
A number of specific examples of how savings could be made are identified in the report. These include using more expensive, more durable hip replacements, which would save £17 million by reducing the need for follow-up care.
Another example cited by the report involved a hospital with 23 operating theatres improving the way it tracks the products used during surgery, saving £230,000 in the first year in which the approach was implemented.
Lord Carter said: "The challenge is to lift hospital efficiency to a consistently high standard in every area of every NHS hospital and, where we already perform well, innovate to improve further.
"I do not think there is one single action we can take but I do believe there are significant benefits to be gained by helping hospitals, using comparative data, to become more productive."