NHS waiting lists in England have fallen to an all-time low according to Department of Health figures.
NHS waiting list numbers have reached an all time low
Between October and November 2006, NHS inpatient waiting lists dropped by 8,000 to 769,000.
This meant the number of patients waiting for treatment was the lowest since the records began in 1987.
However, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb MP said the figures should be taken with a "strong note of caution".
He said: "The government's emphasis on bringing down waiting times above all else has pushed many hospitals into the red as they are forced to manipulate resources to meet strict targets.
"Patient care can also suffer as resources in some hospitals are diverted solely to meet waiting time targets."
But Health Minister Andy Burnham said the new figures provided clear evidence of an improving National Health Service. He said the average wait for inpatient treatment was now around seven weeks.
Testament to hard work
More than three quarters of inpatients had waited less than 13 weeks, and the median waiting time of those still waiting at the end of November 2006 was 6.9 weeks.
For outpatients, 86.9% had waited under eight weeks, and the median waiting time of those still waiting was 3.6 weeks.
Mr Burnham said: "These figures show that the NHS has slashed waiting times and given patients the kind of certainty about their treatment that even up to a few years ago was not thought possible."
A spokesperson for the British Medical Association said: "The latest waiting lists figures are a testament to how hard all the doctors, nurses and other staff in the health service are working.
"There has been a lot of publicity recently blaming doctors' pay rises for the current NHS debt crisis. These figures demonstrate very clearly how intensely doctors have been working to bring down waiting lists."
More work needed
However, Mr Burnham said there was still work needed to cut the NHS' hidden waiting lists.
He said: "Although there is still work ahead to achieve a maximum wait of 18 weeks from GP to treatment, bringing to an end the NHS' hidden waiting lists, I am confident that we will meet this challenging target and the NHS can continue to deliver the fastest access to care."
Mr Lamb also said the government was buying operations in from the private sector to help hit its targets, something he predicted was not sustainable.
He said: "With next year's slowdown in NHS spending and the forecast of hospitals cutting doctors' posts, there is a real danger that waiting times will start to go up again."
A British Medical Association spokesperson also said: "It is essential that sufficient resources are sustained to ensure that waiting list do not rise in the future."