Dr Barbara Hakin, Chief Operating Officer, NHS England, said:
“The NHS does face a challenge on the 18-week standard but staff are working incredibly hard to ensure patients are seen quickly.
“The figures published today show that in February we failed to meet the standard on the number of patients who were admitted for their treatment within 18 weeks from referral by their GP.
“During February, around 270,000 patients were admitted for treatment within the standard, and around 400 waited longer than we would have liked. This shows we are treating more patients than ever, but we do need to treat patients in order of clinical priority. This means treating those who have waited the longest, which may mean that we miss the standard.
“We are doing more operations and treating more people than ever – over a million people start treatment with a consultant each month. The overwhelming majority of patients still get treatment within the 18 week standard and around fifty per cent of patients are admitted for treatment within ten weeks of their GP referring them to hospital.
“The NHS is performing well across a broad range of indicators, including urgent care where we have delivered to the 95 percent standard as laid down by the NHS Constitution.
“We are determined to redouble our efforts so that we do meet the standard and 90 per cent of patients are treated within 18 weeks. But this may take several months as it is imperative we focus on those who have waited longest.”