For the first time ever, the NHS has published the hidden wait times-those that happen before diagnosis.
The average wait at the end of April was seven weeks.
The figures, for 15 of the most common diagnostic tests including scans, internal examinations and hearing tests, mean that for many patients the wait for diagnosis is as long as the wait for treatment.
By the end of 2008, no one should have to wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment. At the moment almost everyone is treated in six months, but that is from diagnosis. Ministers have said by April 2007, diagnostic waits will be limited to 13 weeks.
Since November 2005, patients waiting longer than 26 weeks for scans have been offered appointments at alternative hospitals and clinics. In April this was reduced to 20 weeks.
But critics said the waits were too long.
Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, says: "In too many parts of the country, patients are waiting too long for diagnosis. "
The way to avoid a long wait for diagnostic tests is to buy your own private medical insurance, the vast majority of policies cover a wide range of diagnostic tests and scans.