Health secretary Frank Dobson said 'hospital waiting lists have fallen by 45,000 over the past three months'.

However, waiting lists rose by 15,000 in April before falling by 3,608 in May, 21,467 in June and 20,324 in July.

If Mr Dobson had announced second-quarter figures in the normal way, he would have reported a fall of 10,000.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'This was really about charting a downward fall once the figures had reached a peak in April. By the time we had the normal quarterly figures we also had the July figures, so it made sense to put them together. There was no question of comparing the 45,000 drop with any other quarter.'