Patients’ lives are being put at risk because of inadequate care following emergency operations, surgeons claim.

Emergency patients account for up to half the NHS surgical workload but the country’s top surgeons say mortality and complication rates vary widely between hospitals.

A report by the Royal College of Surgeons released claims the outcome of hospital operations was not being monitored properly, meaning hospitals were not learning how they could improve.

The surgeons blamed the government’s emphasis, “in recent decades”, on reducing waiting lists for planned operations.

As a result, some patients are not getting the care they need after emergency procedures - with the elderly most at risk.

Richard Collins, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons and chairman of the working group which produced the report, said: “In recent decades, UK hospitals have been encouraged and financially rewarded to reduce waiting times for planned operations.

“This has come at a cost as care for emergency patients has been institutionally neglected.”

Mr Collins warned that these patients are often left languishing while they wait for an operation and with little access to senior doctors they receive “sub-optimal post-operative care”.

Referring to government plans to put GPs in charge of commissioning health services, he added: “The patients deserve better. We have to put this right and GPs are now in a strong position to support hospital colleagues in achieving these standards by voting with their feet and giving resources to hospitals which provide the right care.”

The RCS estimates that the care of emergency surgery patients makes up 40 to 50 per cent of surgical work and in general, surgery alone accounts for 14,000 admissions a year to intensive care in England and Wales, at a cost of at least £88m.

However, a 2010 survey of general surgeons indicated only half felt able to care well for their emergency patients.

NHS medical director professor Sir Bruce Keogh said: “We welcome the publication of this advice on best practice for emergency surgical care.

“Royal Colleges have an important role to play in providing clinical leadership in a modern NHS - an NHS that gives clinicians the freedom to use their expertise and influence to provide high quality care and better outcomes for patients.

“It is particularly welcome to see how those in surgical specialties are working with general practice colleagues in providing advice on best practice for commissioning and improving services; a demonstration of how clinical leadership is about working together.”