Surgeons in some hospitals in England have been told to delay operations to cut debts faced by primary care trusts.
The NHS in England could be heading for a £620m deficit
A leaked letter in the Times newspaper said one group of hospitals in London is delaying operations to a level just within NHS waiting time targets.
One hospital in Staffordshire had been told to allow waiting lists to grow, a move which has so far affected around 500 people.
The hospitals say the action will not affect the quality of patient care.
Elective surgery patients are not supposed to wait more than six months, while those booked for surgery through outpatients are not supposed to wait more than 13 weeks.
City financial firms will compete over the weekend to provide teams of advisers to help sort out the budgetary problems, revealed by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt on Thursday, of some health authorities.
They have been commissioned by the Department of Health after it found NHS trusts in England were likely to run up debts of £620m in 2005-2006.
The government wants to appoint a company to run the teams by early next week.
BBC correspondent Ross Hawkins said that, within just a few days, it hopes to have financial and management experts working in more than 50 of the authorities and trusts to find out which need the most help.
The Department of Health called it an "operational issue"
The teams will then provide long-term advice for the weakest, he added.
Hospitals in London's Harrow Primary Care Trust (PCT), which has a deficit of £8m, want to postpone paying for operations until the new financial year starts in April, according to the Times.
The reported recommendation follows the release of government figures showing the NHS in England could be heading for a £620m deficit for 2005-06.
A letter, from the trust's professional executive committee chairman Dr Ken Walton, leaked to Saturday's Times, tells GPs it has "reluctantly" asked hospitals to "do the minimum required to meet national targets".
"This means that patients sent for outpatient appointments will only be seen at 10 to 13 weeks (national target 13 weeks) and elective surgery will be delayed until the sixth month (national target six months)."
But, in a statement to the newspaper, the trust defended its recommendations.
"Harrow PCT is taking action to control its expenditure that will not affect the quality of care given to its patients," the statement said.
"All patients in Harrow will be seen within national targets."
The University Hospital of North Staffordshire said it has been asked to reschedule non-emergency operations for around 500 patients.
The local primary care trusts have told it to allow waiting lists to grow as long as they keep within the government targets.
The Department of Health has said the decision to save money in this way is an "operational issue for the local NHS".
"The NHS has made substantial progress in reducing waiting times for most types of hospital referral," a spokeswoman said.
"Most patients wait much less than six months. The average wait for elective, or planned, treatment is nine weeks.
"Within the maximum waiting times, it is for clinicians to ensure that patients are seen according to clinical priority."