NHS patients in Wales are waiting longer for routine treatment than people in England, according to a report by the Audit Commission.
Patients in Wales are waiting longer for surgery than those in England
Some 85% of patients in Wales are admitted for routine surgical treatment within a year of being placed on a waiting list, while 96% of patients in England are seen within the same period.
The head of the Audit Commission in Wales said the report sent a message to the NHS in Wales to bring down waiting times.
But the commission's report also found that emergency admissions are faster in Wales than in England.
It involves doctors, managers and the assembly working together... to bring down waiting times
Clive Grace, Audit Commission
The report looks at the performance of hospitals in Wales during 2001-02 and focuses on waiting times, bed management, outpatients and operating theatres.
It found that patients in Wales often stay longer in hospital and outpatients have to wait longer for their appointment than in England.
The report recommended that the NHS in Wales develops its community services, so that patients can be treated nearer to home and avoid unnecessary admission to hospital.
Emergency admissions are faster in Wales than in England
Emergency patients in Wales are also more likely to be admitted to the most appropriate ward.
Clive Grace, director general of the Audit Commission in Wales, said: "These reports contain a key message for all those in the NHS in Wales.
"It involves doctors, managers and the assembly working together to ensure that hospitals maximise their existing resources to bring down waiting times for patients."
Health report on Welsh NHS
Routine surgery admission within year:
Wales - 85%; England - 96%
Orthopaedic referral within 13 weeks:
Wales - 49%; England - 65%
Emergency admission within four hours:
Wales - 96%; England - 81%
Welsh Health Minister Jane Hutt defended the assembly government's progress on reducing waiting lists.
She told BBC Radio Wales: "If over 2,000 people were waiting in July 2001 when this survey was undertaken, two years later we have only 26, isn't that progress?
"Hasn't that been making the advances we need for Welsh patients?
She told Good Morning Wales: "If there were more than 100 people waiting for cardiac surgery for more than 12 months... now there are no patients waiting, surely that's progress?"
She said the commission's report would help identify areas where change was needed.
She added: "We are constantly working towards change and improvement in the health service and this report will assist us in that task.
"The National Health Service comes into its own when people face an emergency.
"I am delighted that the Audit Commission reports confirm the outstanding record of the NHS in Wales in providing help to people in these circumstances.
"High levels of emergency admission place additional pressures on elective surgery and we know there are problems to be addressed in this area," she said.
"A review will be published shortly and will help us build on the significant improvements which are already being made."