The Secretary of State for Health said the reduction was a "magnificent achievement" and reflected the "massive efforts" of NHS staff.
The Conservatives, however, accused Mr Dobson of fiddling the figures. They claimed many people were now waiting longer for an initial hospital appointment that would allow them to go on the official waiting lists.
The number of people waiting for treatment fell by 39,700 in February. The total now stands at 1,119,700 - 38,000 below the figure on 1 May 1997.
Mr Dobson also announced new targets yesterday to increase the number of initial out-patient appointments next year. But the British Medical Association said it would be "impossible" to meet the targets without more consultants.Reuse content