NHS Wales has met a target set five years ago to cut waiting times to less than six months, it has been revealed.

Official figures showed 1,607 people were waiting more than 26 weeks for treatment at the end of last year.

The Welsh Assembly said the 0.7 per cent of patients spending longer than 26 weeks on waiting lists was within “tolerance” levels.

The health service is expected to treat 95 per cent of hospital patients and 98 per cent of people who are not admitted to hospital within the target time.

Exceptions are made for clinical delays and patients’ personal choices.

The waiting time target in England is 18 weeks, but the Welsh Assembly said its statistics on patients who are referred to hospital for treatment in Wales could not be compared with those over the border because they were compiled differently.

Health minister Edwina Hart said: “This is a significant achievement, and one of which staff should be proud.

“The priority now for the NHS must be to sustain these targets.

“I recognise that as a result of the severe weather last month, there were a number of cancellations, with these operations now having to be rescheduled over the coming months, which may make sustaining these targets difficult in the short term.”

When the 26 week target was set in 2005, more than 100,000 people were waiting more than six months and 8,000 were waiting more than 18 months.