Emergency readmissions among NHS patients soared under the last Labour government, according to official figures.

The number of people returning to hospital within a month increased by more than three-quarters in the 10 years to 2009-10, the Department of Health said.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley accused hospitals of treating patients “like parts on a production line” as they tried to hit Labour’s waiting list targets.

Some 620,054 patients had to be readmitted within a month in 2009-10 compared with 348,996 a decade earlier - an increase of 78 per cent.

The average rise disguises massive regional variations, however, with London and the South East - where the NHS is most stretched - seeing the biggest increases.

Mr Lansley said: “Patients have a right to expect that when they go in for treatment they are looked after properly and that the treatment they are given helps them to recover. Having to be readmitted and treated all over again is hugely distressing.

“These figures show how Labour’s obsession with waiting time targets meant that patients were treated like parts on a production line to be hurried through the system rather than like people who need to be properly cared for.

“Instead of focusing on the results which actually matter for patients, they focused on narrow processes to the detriment of patient care.”

The coalition government is ditching targets in favour of a new focus on “outcomes”.

Mr Lansley said he was taking action to address the rise in emergency readmissions, adding: “One of the new goals we are setting the NHS is reducing emergency readmissions.

“In order to help achieve this we have created a re-ablement fund of £300m and we have taken action to stop hospitals being paid when they readmit a patient after discharging them too early. These steps will turn Labour’s poor performance around.”