The NHS could save more than £40m a year by making simple changes to the way patients are prepared for surgery and helped to recover, according to the Department of Health.

Officials say clinician led changes piloted at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford have demonstrated the extent to which money can be saved.

The changes involve ensuring potential complications are explored before admission to hospital and getting patients back on their feet as quickly as possible after surgery.

The “enhanced recovery” programme has led to the average number of bed days for patients being cut from 10 to four for certain types of surgery.

Adopted nationally, this could save £42.7m by freeing up 171,500 bed days, the Department of Health says.

The figures have been released as Andrew Lansley seeks to shore up support for his highly controversial reforms of the NHS, designed to empower clinicians.

Mr Lansley said: “This is a perfect example of what can be achieved when clinicians are given the freedom to be innovative and deliver healthcare in the ways they think are best for patients.

“This is exactly what I want to see in the NHS - better, more innovative care for patients that costs less - so savings can be invested back in to frontline care.”

The innovations in surgery preparation include: having GPs assess patients to ensure they are in the best possible condition before entering hospital for surgery; talking to patients about the process to minimise stress; using minimally invasive surgery; encouraging patients to get into a routine as soon after surgery as possible.

About 50 healthcare providers so far have clinical teams that use the “enhanced recovery” techniques. The department said it was strongly supportive of the methods but was not providing any additional funding.