Simple improvements, such as developing administrative staff, can lead to significant reductions in both waiting times and waiting lists, according to the results of a programme run by NHS Employers.
A total of 25 trusts were observed over a period of 10 months to see how well they delivered the government's target of carrying out patient pathways, from GP referral to the start of treatment, within 18 weeks.
By the end of the programme, nine teams had cut the number of people waiting for treatment by between 15 and 78 per cent, with an average waiting-time reduction of 10 weeks.
This was achieved despite the teams spending less than£10,000 in total.
NHS Employers deputy director Alastair Henderson said: 'Through their enterprising work, trusts have shown that the 18-week target is achievable and, importantly, that achievement of the target does not rely on spending vast amounts of money or employing lots of new staff.'
'Teams taking part in our programme found they could make massive improvements by taking time to analyse their existing systems and then making some simple revisions.'
The teams, which mainly concentrated on specific departments such as radiology and orthopaedics, were helped to redesign their services and workforces.
They improved 'do not attend' policies, educated patients, engaged clinicians and developed the skills of administrative staff so doctors could get on with clinical duties.