Trusts in some parts of England are failing to meet targets on the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for surgery, though the best performers are progressing at a much faster rate than that demanded by their regional offices.

The University Hospitals of Leicester trust had 458 patients waiting more than a year for surgery at the end of December, far in excess of the target figure of 167 it now calls 'unrealistic', set by Trent regional office. The trust, which covers Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester General and Glenfield Hospital, says it cannot predict how many patients will still be waiting more than 12 months by the end of March, though it is confident that it will meet next year's targets.

Glenfield Hospital director John Todd, who is overseeing the waiting-list timetable, said early 'difficulties' knocked the trust off course for the year, despite carrying out almost 500 operations in the private sector. 'We were hit by a high level of emergency admissions in May and June. We expect it to happen in the winter months - but not in May and June. '

The trust is now working towards getting the maximum wait down to 15 months, but 'it was unrealistic to meet the original target', Mr Todd added.

London regional office has admitted that it missed its 12month waiting-list target for December by 29 per cent.

'We are slightly behind plan on our 12-month waiting lists. The plan for December was for it to stand at 7,121. The actual figure was 9,161, ' said a spokesman.

He said most trusts would be able to close the gap by the end of March and emphasised that performance on the waiting list - a 1 per cent increase in December, against a planned 3 per cent rise - had surpassed the regional office's expectations. 'We are very pleased. '

Elsewhere in the country the lack of winter pressures has enabled many trusts to meet their targets with ease. The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University hospitals trust had 477 patients waiting over 12 months at the end of January - 16 per cent below the target figure of 568.

Communications manager Brian Goodison said the decision to increase the amount of routine surgery carried out in the summer months had paid off: 'We were trying to build a buffer for the winter months, but as it happened we sailed through Christmas. '

South East regional office director of performance Bob Ricketts said he expected the 12-month waiting list to 'come down quite significantly' over the next few months. Improved winter planning and the 'recovery' plan worked out with 14 struggling trusts explained the progress:

'Eight of these trusts reduced their waiting lists by 4,500 over June to December. '