Tackling variations in the quality of surgical teams would save more lives than investing in new drugs, the new president of the Royal College of Surgeons has claimed.

John Black told HSJ that there were some excellent surgeons but it took too long for new techniques and ways of working to spread across the country.

"The best practice, particularly with cancer, produces significantly different results compared with 'good' practice," he said.

This meant for many common cancers such as bowel and stomach, improving practice from merely safe and good to top class would produce better outcomes than treatments such as chemotherapy. "If the research effort went into surgical issues there would be more benefits in terms of years of patients' lives saved than all the anti-cancer drugs," he said.

Mr Black's comments come as Imperial College Healthcare trust decided to financially reward surgical teams that achieve good patient outcomes, although this will not amount to personal cash bonuses. The pilot scheme is an attempt to highlight best practice, while identifying any failures.

Trust chief executive Stephen Smith said: "For the first time we will have real-time data about all aspects of the patient journey which we will be able to use to improve both care and outcomes."

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