The first day of the new year could see the NHS pay a £300 a week payment to all patients on a waiting list for a specialist heart operation, according to research.
A review of the policy by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences at the University of Cambridge found that if patients were still waiting, then a £1,000 payment would be sufficient to cover the cost of an operation.
However, if patients waited longer, that would be $2,000 (£1,500) a week more.
In practice, patients will be able to make payments if they wait more than four weeks before undergoing surgery, the NHS said.
The decision to pay the fee was made by the Department for Health and looked at whether it was worth waiting longer for surgery.
“It was decided that the cost per operation was less than the risk of delays and it was determined that the time it took for a patient to be admitted to hospital would not be worth the additional cost,” the department said.
In contrast, the government’s own analysis found the risk was not worth waiting four weeks.
The NHS is considering whether to extend the policy to patients who have had more than one operation.
A spokeswoman said the payments would be paid out over two years.
The first payment will be made on the first day a patient has surgery.
The second payment will take effect on the next day.
The Department of Health said the NHS had been “working closely” with the Department of Social Protection to ensure that the payment policy was not “unjustified”.
“We recognise that there are risks in the system, including waiting times and waiting periods for some surgeries,” she said.
“We will be looking at the policy closely as it applies to all NHS patients.”
Patients who are on the waiting list will be given a discount on their first payment, so that if they were waiting four days they would be entitled to a £200 discount.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to extend waiting times to five days for most procedures and five days in some cases for some elective operations.
He said it was time for the NHS to start paying for people’s health and he called on the Department to do the same for patients.
The government said it would not use any NHS funding for “non-essential” services, including care for patients who are waiting for their operation.
The health department said it had received more than 7,000 applications for the policy, and had begun to consider them.
Patients have until December 31 to apply.