The NHS in England has officially breached the main waiting times target for elective treatment.

The total waiting list is now thought to be over 3.5m people and of them, 92 per cent should have waited 18 weeks or less.

Figures released this morning by NHS England showed 91.8 per cent of patients had waited 18 weeks or less. This is the first time this has happened since March 2011.

The figures do not include several large trusts that are not able to report their figures.

HSJ reported earlier this year that the target had likely been breached when these trusts were factored back into the national totals.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ”“The NHS is busy and last year carried out 1.6m more operations than in 2010, but the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment has plummeted by nearly 18,000 to just 755. We are taking action to improve waiting times by more effectively managing waiting lists and promoting patient choice.”

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “These figures confirm the findings of our report today that every winter is getting tougher for the NHS. The number of people waiting too long in A&E and the number of hospital beds occupied by patients who’ve finished their medical treatment have both risen yet again since the previous month.

“In addition, for the first time the NHS has missed its target that most patients should get their planned hospital treatment within 18 weeks. We know that not having too long to wait for an operation is something that really matters to patients – the fact that this target has been breached for the first time shows how the pressure on emergency care is spreading.”