The Government's NHS reforms are costing the taxpayer millions of pounds in fees for competition lawyers, Labour has claimed.
Since the NHS in England was opened up to full competition last April with the establishment of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), Labour said that at least £5 million has been paid out to lawyers.
Responses to Freedom of Information requests received from 190 of the 211 CCGs showed that 76 had paid to use competition lawyers, spending a combined total of £5,007,346, the party said.
It said the money paid out could cover the annual salaries of around 120 nurses or pay 5,670 cataract operations, 873 knee operations or 841 hip replacements
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "While the NHS has been throwing cash at lawyers, more and more older people have been denied essential operations and the A&E crisis has got worse.
"It is taking millions away from patient care and holding back changes that the NHS needs to make. Since April this year, the NHS has been unable to make sensible changes to services without consulting competition lawyers - it is a ridiculous state of affairs that can't go on."
The Department of Health said the Government's reforms would save the NHS £5.5 billion over the lifetime of the current parliament, and £1.5 billion a year after that.
"Competition in the health service is not new - and the guiding principle is that it must be a means to improving services for patients and not an end in itself. It has never been and is absolutely not the Government's intention to make all NHS services subject to competitive tendering," a spokesman said.
"The regulations explicitly set out that it is up to doctors and nurses to take decisions on how to do this and, earlier this month, the regulator published detailed guidance to help them to make those decisions."