Patients requiring orthopaedic surgery, such as hip replacement and knee surgery, are in some cases facing waits of over two years for NHS treatment.
New government figures have revealed that efforts to reach a maximum 18-week wait between referral and treatment by the end of 2008 are unlikely to meet with success, with the majority of specialities, including gynaecology, dermatology and cardiology, still only meeting the target in 30 to 50 per cent of cases.
The overall statistics show that, on average, 70 to 80 per cent of out-patients are treated within 18 weeks, but the figure falls to just 35 per cent for in-patients.
Health minister Andy Burnham, who released the figures yesterday, insisted that progress had been made, but admitted that the target would still be a "major challenge".
"Doing more of the same is not the answer - we know that traditional tactics to reduce waiting times will not be enough this time," he said.
Independent advice on private healthcare