The number of patients waiting for an NHS operation fell by 3,600 during November, according to the Department of Health. The total number of patients waiting in England stood at 156,960 - 137,000 fewer than March 1997.

Meanwhile, those waiting longer than 12 months for an operation was 24,300 - a drop of a third since its peak in June 1998.Four patients had been waiting longer than 18 months. But the figures have been attacked by Conservative MPs, who argue there are now tens of thousands more people waiting for their first consultant appointment.