Hospital waiting lists in England are down a third in six years and are at their lowest level since the 1980s, the NHS chief executive is expected to announce.
In his end of year report, Sir Nigel Crispin is expected to say waiting lists are down by 11% from last year and 35% from their peak six years ago. He is also likely to praise increased choice for patients.
The Liberal Democrats say their research suggests that many patients face long waits for diagnostic tests, which are not included in the waiting list figures.
Do you think waiting lists are coming down? What are you experiences of waiting lists? Do the improvements show value for money?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
As an NHS employee, I can tell you that we do not enjoy having to sacrifice patient care over meeting targets. I agree that there are many more admin staff at certain levels than there needs to be. However, I still believe that we are all largely working on good will in difficult situations. The NHS as a whole is still woefully underfunded and we should not have to spend time and money on meeting ridiculous targets that mean nothing and the public do not believe. Please, please try to believe that the majority of us are hardworking, genuinely caring individuals who would much rather throw out the rule book and get on with providing the best treatment possible to our patients.
Anon, Billericay, Essex
I am 52 weeks into a predicted 57-week wait for an appointment at an ENT clinic. I cannot afford to go private, but know this is now a common way of speeding up the waiting time between your initial GP appointment and receiving any necessary treatment. Desperate patients going private for consultations may be an explanation for reduced waiting times, and doesn't reflect the true nature of the ridiculous and stressful waiting times many NHS patients experience.
Jan, Edinburgh, Scotland
I don't think it is falling, I can't even get an appointment with the nurse at my GP surgery. So if the statistics show that the waiting lists are falling, it is probably because if you can't see your GP you can't get added on the list.
The NHS is the last great political taboo. Not one political party dares question the central principle of 'free health care for all' and it's a debate that's long overdue. In 21st century consumer society we're happy to pay through the nose for fancy mobile phones, satellite TV subscriptions, designer trainers and holidays abroad, but when it comes time to put our hands in our pockets for our own health (or pensions) we pull a face and say, 'But I pay my taxes'. Nothing in life is for free and if your health isn't worth paying for, what is?
Lorraine, London, UK
I have waited to see a dermatologist twice within the last 2 years. I had to wait 20 weeks for the appointment first time. This time it's 16 weeks so it is going down! I actually got seen within under 20 weeks and the problems were quickly resolved.
It is a well known fact that hospitals fast track day surgery and minor cases at the expense of longer, more complex procedures in order to boost the numbers. That is fine for the patient with an unsightly wart for removal but no fun for the pensioner awaiting a hip replacement.
Alan Rickards, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire
Yes, but the list of private healthcare customers, for companies like Bupa has rocketed - so go figure.
James Murphy, Dorset, UK
The only reason waiting lists are falling is due to the fact that you are no longer put on a list until a month before you see the consultant.
Marcia Lawrence, Fleet, Hampshire, England
Isn't it about time we thanked our lucky stars that we have a free NHS! If, like the rest of the world, we had to pay every time we saw a doctor/ received treatment/ had tests, then we would have something to complain about. As it is, we have the option of free treatment, or, if you want treatment quicker, pay for it. Be thankful we have the choice.
Mike, Bristol, UK
I think it immensely sad that we are so befuddled by statistics. A friend of mine is an NHS Chief Exec and I believe him when he says that unprecedented amounts of money are being poured into the service. Where that's going I have no idea. Successive governments have so manipulated the figures that we rightly are suspicious of them. We need an independent body to give us true statistics.
David, Manchester, UK
Why are my experiences so different to the majority of those expressed on here? I've had a throat problem for some time. I called my GP and got an appointment the next day. I was referred to the ENT department at the local hospital and from referral to appointment it has take eight weeks. It couldn't have been easier and so much different to a similar situation ten years ago.
Michael Gibson, Lancaster, UK
I have recently undergone tests at Stoke Mandeville hospital. I would like to publicly congratulate them on the promptness, punctuality, professionalism and cheerfulness with which the whole process has been carried out. They provided a service that would be very hard to beat.
Sorry it's just more manipulation of statistics. My experience of the NHS paints a picture of crisis and mismanagement. Is there an election looming by any chance?
Graham P, UK
All that's been reduced is the time spent waiting for a pre-operation assessment. The time spent waiting after that is just as long as it ever was. This is, I would imagine, another example of the smoke-and-mirrors policy of massaging the statistics to suit the desired findings.
Adrian, Stoke on Trent
My daughter was given 14 months to see an ENT last year. I have just been quoted a 70 (yes, seven zero) week wait to see an ENT consultant here in Edinburgh. In my maths that's an increase in waiting time. If Sir Nigel is quoting decreases I suspect it's because some of us are saving up and paying for it, instead of waiting.
Charles Henderson, Edinburgh, Scotland
I am on the waiting list for a colon surgery for 5 month now. I saw my consultant the last time on Wednesday as my condition has become worse. I asked him why he can't schedule the operation, his answer was: "I can only put an urgent request through, the prioritisation is done by the administration who wants to meet the targets". This shows, as long as people who are non-medical rule in the NHS it will never get better.
Martin, Slough, Berks
It's yet more spin to attempt to reassure the public as we draw closer to the election. Waiting lists aren't going down; they are going up as cost cutting slowly eats into the services. The people who work on the ground know the truth and no matter how much the figures are massaged, the problem wont go away.
Clive Lambourne, Kent, UK
'Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics' is a previously made statement that holds true for anything that this government says, where it throws money at things without actually insisting upon improvements. More managers do not make the NHS more efficient or provide a better service to the customer. What we need are more Health Care Professionals and less administrators.
Dave Hodgson, Swindon, England
From our experiences there are many "lists" in the NHS that masks the truth. My wife required surgery for gallbladder removal and waited well over two years (nearer to three) for the operation. All the while she experienced considerable pain and discomfort. But, from the NHS perspective, she didn't wait very long at all because they moved her from one list to another and was never on any one particular list for more than six months at the most. For those with chronic conditions, it's all just a terrible lie that waiting times are down.
Richard J de Bou, London, UK
There's a sad lack of logic in a lot of the comments - just because things are not perfect doesn't mean they haven't got better. We can all only speak from our own experience. Mine and that of close friends who have had conditions requiring surgery here in Sheffield, any wait that was necessary was quite acceptable. My own day case operation was scheduled by mutual agreement to fit in with a holiday, and ran exactly to time, to the minute! My only complaint is that the post operation snacks the toast was not wholemeal!
Chris, Sheffield UK
As one of the 'bean counters' (incidentally paid less than a newly qualified nurse) I would like to point out that this is a real fall in waiting lists. Patients are being treated quickly once diagnosis is made (especially for cancer and heart disease). Diagnostic waits are unfortunately long but that's because consultants are seeing more people in outpatients! People should be congratulating the NHS and its staff for the good job they do.
I have a friend who has recently had 3 appointments cancelled on him only later to find out that he had been put down as a no-show and therefore not on the waiting list. Is this how the figures are being brought down?
Dave Ring, Eastbourne
There are far too many contradictory tales for these figures to be believed.
Alan Preddy, Epsom
I would be fairly suspicious of this announcement. I am a doctor, and today listed a patient for a routine operation and his wait will be around 8 months. How is this reasonable? There are various people with the opportunity and motivation to massage the figures, not least the suits in the hospitals whose performance targets depend on them, and the suits in the Government whose re-election depends on them.
Waiting lists coming down, who are they kidding? I have been off work nearly a year with a migraine/neck condition that doesn't allow me to move my head and neck too much. I was referred to a specialist; they put in a request for a MRI scan in May. I am still waiting and have been told it is now likely to be March 2005 at the earliest. A 10 month wait is not what I call coming down.
David Quinton, Wigan, England
My GP referred me to a consultant dermatologist in the Spring and I had an appointment within 3 months. My son had three referrals following a visit from our Health Visitor and all the appointments were within 9 weeks. The care that both my wife, who has Sickle Cell Disease, and my Son, who has just been diagnosed with Autism, received was excellent. It may sound trite but I feel truly privileged to have access to the world-class healthcare provided by the NHS.
Of course waiting lists are falling. In line with other public services the reforms and investments made by this government are really beginning to bite now. In my own area, waiting lists are at historic low levels, a new £120 Million super hospital is being developed, and there are more doctors and nurses. Well done Labour, keep up the good work!
Russell Kennedy, Chelmsford
Well, this is good news on paper, but the reality on the ground is very different. My mother has just received an appointment with a consultant, almost a year after it was first requested. I recently moved house and called my local surgery to register with them and was told there was a waiting list for that too! I understand the pressures that the NHS is under, and that there are no easy solutions to the problems, but my recent experiences have certainly been frustrating.
Kate, Luton, Beds
I went to see my GP by appointment 5.00pm one Friday. She wanted some further tests and phoned the hospital. They suggested 7.00pm that evening! I arrived to find that the tests would take twelve hours to complete and had to ask if I could postpone them until the following morning as everything had happened so fast that I had not had time to sort out my domestic arrangements.
John Lawrence, Southampton, UK
I work in the NHS and also require its services due to arthritis and other problems. I am sure that the government is spinning its figures. Consultants are working overtime and are burning themselves out to meet unrealistic targets. The waiting lists are not really coming down. Not that I am cynical or anything, but referral letters are being sent to me months before an appointment - I wonder whether the letters I receive mean that I am now no longer "waiting"?
The view among people I know is that you don't go near a hospital unless you absolutely have to. Everyone is terrified of MRSA. One of my friends got this in his knee after keyhole surgery. That was about 4 months ago and he's still recovering. I won't be in any queue for the hospital unless I have no other choice. That must surely keep the waiting lists down!
Ian Brewster, London, England
There is a method of lowering the numbers of patients waiting for hospital treatment and that is, refer them back to their own GP at a stage in their treatment. This reduces the waiting list and looks good for the powers that be. It is a loophole that not many know about and it just happened to my wife.
Steve P., Burnley
Having lived in France, the NHS in the UK is positively third world. In France they have virtually no waiting lists and you can see a top specialist straight away without any referral. The NHS has a lot to learn. By the time you have waited, the problem has either gone away, (or you have cured it by going private) or got significantly worse. Disgraceful.
Chris, Heswall, UK
I imagine they all died waiting.
Bonzo, Berkeley, California
My brother-in-law waited 3 years to be put on a waiting list for a hip replacement - which he obviously needed. During those 3 years he had courses of physiotherapy, minor operations and other treatment which kept him off the hip replacement waiting list. Once on the list he waited 3 months before surgery. The lists are therefore a farce as hospitals are simply keeping people off them with unnecessary operations and treatment.
James, Woodford, UK
This is just another piece of government spin. All that happens is you get an appointment with a junior who then refers you to the specialist you would have originally seen. Bottom line, no waiting list on paper but you as a patient are no further forward or any better off.
Keith, Sunderland, UK
This is clearly good news and proves that more investment in health will improve performance. The problem is that those at the front line have been saying this for years and praise should be given not to the Government who allocated the money too late but to the Nurses and Doctors who now given the resources they needed have be able to deliver the results.
Piers Catton, Blandford Forum UK
By themselves, the figures look good, but don't actually tell us much - it all depends what's going on in the background. For instance, if patients are being shunted onto trolleys and then left in the corridors for hours in order to bring the waiting times down, I suspect there are not many people who would see this as an improvement.
Kate, London, UK
No they are not coming down. Like everything else with new Labour the figures have been massaged to tell the story they want us to hear.
Sheer nonsense I work in the NHS and the opposite is true. The service has degenerated over the last 5 or so years. The only growth is in administrative people at the cost of health care professionals. Patient care is still a unacceptable, with fewer staff (apart from lots of managers) and longer waiting times. The bean counters can make the numbers add up to what they want but this will not improve health care one iota.
Andrew, Woodford, Essex
I remember waiting 15 months to see an NHS consultant dermatologist in 1998 - a miserable wait during which my condition worsened. I would have gone private, but at the age of 17 couldn't afford it. I saw a consultant recently for the same condition and only had to wait 4 months! Who knows how the NHS is doing as a whole, but my experience is that the waiting times are lower. Thank goodness.
Marie, London, UK
My Mum was referred with a serious heart condition in August. She has still not received an appointment or any communication from the hospital. On phoning them, she was told she could not be issued with an appointment until 13 weeks before the appointment (to meet government waiting list guidelines). She is on the waiting list for the waiting list.
Having just come back from the US were seeing the doctor means re-mortgaging, isn't it about time we realised how lucky we are to have the NHS? My wife recently had to go to hospital and on the whole I was impressed, although the cleanliness was below average. Let's stop being whingers and be grateful for the health service that we have.
Andy, St Albans England
What exactly is the criteria on which these figures are based? A friend of mine injured his leg in an accident recently and when he arrived at the Accident and Emergency unit, he was told he had to queue for a place in the 'official' queue. Of course, this involves waiting for hours at a time, so he decided to consult his GP instead (although the hospital would have been the more appropriate place). Perhaps the only people who have the patience to wait are those on death's door. I believe this illusion of progress is a direct result of lowering expectations by reducing standards. Furthermore, it is probable that the NHS is under government pressure to convince us all that things aren't really that bad, as election time looms.
Andy Bird, Cheshire, UK
Waiting lists down? Not in my experience. I waited 9 months to see a specialist and I've just received a letter saying the wait for the tests requested by the consultant is around 18 months. There are some improvements - the local hospital now books individual appointments, rather than booking 50 people for the same time, so when an appointment is finally received the queue time is shorter. The value for money question is interesting. The web site of the local PCT & NHS Trust is very pretty and self-congratulatory. The buildings are still shabby, poorly lit & not very clean.
Clive Mayhew, Southend-on-Sea England
My mother was on the waiting list for the proper waiting list for 11 months. This was for an eye condition that was seriously affecting her quality of life. When she eventually saw the specialist after 14 months, she was told that as her other eye was fine she would not have the required operation for at least another 10 months. At this point I said enough is enough and paid out of my pocket for the operation to be done privately. This was done within 3 weeks. So don't tell me that things are any better, if anything they are worse. It's the waiting list for the waiting list that goes unreported.
Owen, Sevenoaks, Kent
Last year my wife detected a lump in her breast. It was a Saturday. She went to the doctors on the following Monday. That morning she was given an appointment to see an oncologist the following week. The diagnosis was cancer. She was operated on three weeks later, had chemo and radiotherapy, and is now clear. Yes bringing down waiting lists matter and her treatment could not have been. It really is about time that we started to feel proud about what the NHS is now able to accomplish. Of course there will always be examples where things go wrong but the trouble is that the thousands of satisfied patients rarely bother to put their side of the story.
Phil, Market Drayton
How about the waiting list just to see your own GP? I tried to book an appointment to see him today. He is fully booked until mid-January. The next appointment with any other doctor at my surgery is 12 days away. That's the reality behind Labour's propaganda.
Will Hall, London, UK