The NHS is improving with waiting lists and major disease death rates both falling, the service's head says.
Sir Nigel's annual report praises the improvements which have been made
Sir Nigel Crisp's annual report said extra investment, with funding rising more than 7% a year, was paying off.
The NHS was also becoming more efficient with management costs and hospital stays both down, he said.
But patient groups and opposition MPs said while improvements had been made, the NHS also had problems with NHS debts which were harming care.
Sir Nigel's report praised the reduction in waiting lists, which now stands at 792,000 - 500,000 below its peak.
He said by the end of the year no-one should be waiting more than six months for a non-emergency operation.
And the NHS chief executive added investment in doctors, nurses and infrastructure was helping to tackle disease.
Premature deaths from heart disease, stroke and other related disease have fallen by a third since 1997, meaning the NHS was well on target to meet the 2010 40% target.
The cancer mortality rate for under 75s has fallen by 14% over the same period.
And the report also praised the move to give patients more choice over their treatment.
From the end of this year patients will be able to choose from up to five hospitals, including a private provider, for their treatment.
He said: "What choice is about is improving services. People are improving services because they want to make sure that patients come to their hospital."
The NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said the report showed staff were "making a difference".
But Sir Nigel warned in the short-term the NHS must address its finances.
One in four trusts finished last year in debt, leaving the NHS with a net deficit of more than £200m.
This year the health service is facing a £620m shortfall, although Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said it was likely to be much lower in the end.
The King's Fund think-tank has warned reforms, such as patient choice, which make the NHS more market-driven could end up worsening the situation.
Patients Association chairman Michael Summers said there were "two sides to the coin".
"It is true that improvements have been made and these should be acknowledged.
"But that is not the full story. NHS deficits are hitting patients services, wards are closing, operations being delayed. We need to get a handle on that."
And Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley added the "reality on the ground is very different to the one peddled" by the report.
"Across the country, frontline services are being cut and waiting times extended because of deficits."