Official figures to be published by the Department of Health this week will show that around 1,250,000 people are waiting for hospital treatment.
This is the figure projected by research conducted by the independent House of Commons library for Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman.
The surge in numbers is blamed partly on the Government's spending restrictions, plus the unexpected side-effects of a promise by Health Secretary Frank Dobson that no patient will wait more than 18 months.
Mr Hughes said: "The looming crisis springs from Labour's decision to accept the Tory spending plans. Studies show that waiting lists rise when the growth rate of NHS funding falls significantly below 3 per cent.
"This year's level is half that at 1.4 per cent. How can Labour expect to deliver their early years pledge to reduce the waiting lists without the necessary resources?"
The number of patients on NHS waiting lists rose by almost 14 per cent in the year to September 1997, to a total of 1,207,500. Based on that trend, and taking into account the onset of winter, the Commons library research predicts a further rise of almost 50,000 for the December 1997 total.
Last November, Mr Dobson ruled that anyone who had been waiting for 18 months must be given top priority. In order to meet that pledge, say the Liberal Democrats, "clinical priorities have been overruled".
Mr Hughes added: "This has led to an increase in the number of patients waiting over a year. In the months leading to September 1997, the number of people waiting between 12 and 18 months rose by 11,000 (24 per cent) to 57,700. This figure is set to rise above 60,000."Reuse content