According to a survey of hospital chief executives, released by the NHS Confederation, even though surgery is statistically more risky, patients are now more scared of catching an infection than of going under the knife.
Drastic measures are about to be introduced to tackle the spread of hospital superbugs which could mean patients being screened for MRSA before they are admitted and visiting hours significantly cut.
These moves by hospital trusts follows a long battle with the infection which was heightened last week by fears over outbreaks of a second bug, Clostridium difficile, and has further undermined public confidence in hospitals.
Although dirty wards have been blamed for the spread of infection, Gill Morgan, chief executive of the confederation, which represents hospital trusts, said the bug was being imported in so many cases from the outside that hospitals must now be very imaginative about handling people coming into hospitals from the community.
Some leading hospitals have already begun screening patients before admission with others expected to follow.
Screening at Lewisham hospital in south London found 40 per cent of elderly patients arriving from nursing homes carried the superbug, and at University College Hospital, London, half of patients were carrying MRSA before they reached the ward.
Those identified now have their skin treated to reduce infection before operations, to avoid infecting the wound.
Morgan says when the problem is known, screening is a very good technique, espeicially as there are new technologies which give a rapid analysis.
Hospitals are reintroducing strict visiting hours, to keep germs out and enable patients to recover in peace, and are experimenting with more limited visiting, and smaller numbers of people coming in.
Eradicating infection was not a simple a process, Morgan said.
Morgan's intervention follows an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at Stoke Mandeville hospital, which claimed 12 lives and infected 300 more patients.
Morgan welcomes the Government plan to publish a public health and hygiene bill which includes clamp downs on ward hygiene similar to those imposed on kitchens to prevent food poisoning.
Fear of catching a hospital bug is seriously 'disproportionate' to the risk, fuelled by inaccurate reporting and political errors. During the election, the confederation intervened when erroneous figures for MRSA infections were used in Tory leaflets.
Morgan says when patients are more frightened of MRSA than they are of their operation, there is something fundamentally wrong.
Morgan warns that halting inflation-busting rises in NHS funding after 2008 would be very difficult.
Despite recent rises in waiting lists for surgery and a rise in cancelled operations, Morgan said trusts were on track to meet the target of 18 weeks from seeing a GP to the operating table.