Surgical and GP specialists in the Nelson-Marlborough region say patients are in danger of missing out on operations because of long waiting lists.
The head of surgery at Nelson Hospital, Adrian Secker, has written to GPs and called the issue a "sorry state of affairs".
Mr Secker said more than 500 people are waiting to see a general surgeon, a far greater number than the Nelson-Marlborough District Health Board can handle.
The board points out that these are people in the system for general surgery who will be seen within six months, and are not new referrals.
But Mr Secker is also concerned the active review classification for surgical patients is being dropped, meaning patients would either have to require definite surgical treatment or be discharged with no treatment.
The Minister of Health has described the issue as a beat up and says the letter is not correct.