More nurses and other health workers are to be given the opportunity to carry out simple surgical procedures.
Nurses' role is expanding
The Department of Health has drawn up guidance to standardise the training of surgical care practitioners.
Some non-medical health workers have already been trained to carry out procedures such as removing skin lesions and varicose veins operations.
It is hoped more will now follow suit - speeding up care for many patients.
As well as carrying out simple surgical procedures, these workers will be trained to care for patients before and after surgery.
The Department of Health, which has put its proposals out for consultation, has stressed patient safety will remain a top priority.
Health Minister Lord Warner said: "The NHS is working hard to give patients faster access to care.
"By developing the roles of healthcare staff we are able to offer patients skilled practitioners who are able to carry out simple surgical procedures - freeing up doctors to deal with more difficult cases."
Surgical care practitioners (SCPs) have been in existence since the late 1980s, but until now there have been no formalised standards for their training.
Hugh Phillips, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, welcomed the move to increase SCP numbers.
But he said his members felt strongly that they must be directly accountable to the supervising consultant.
Mr Simon Eccles, chairman of the British Medical Association's Junior Doctors' Committee said: "We are concerned over how these proposals would be implemented.
"Doctors in training must get as much experience as possible to hone their skills, as they train to be the surgeons of tomorrow.
"These proposals don't account for how a new raft of people performing surgery - but who are not doctors and will not be taking responsibility for patients - would be matched to the workload and development of the surgical team as a whole."
Doug McWhinnie, a consultant surgeon at Milton Keynes General Hospital, said that SCPs had been working there for two years.
He said they helped "fill the void" left by junior doctors since their hours were reduced last year under the European Working Time Directive.
The National Association of Theatre Nurses welcomed the attempt to standardise training.
Jane Reid, NATN deputy chairman, said pilot schemes had generated positive feedback from patients.
"The SCP role provides an excellent clinical career route for registered professionals who wish to expand their scope of practice.
"However, we do not support the enthusiasm that is shared by some to widen the entry gate to include options for graduate direct entry."
Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said the Tories were keen to give health workers more responsibility, as it could help the NHS to attract and retain staff.