The government is planning a crackdown on "hidden" waiting lists in NHS-run hospitals.
The current National Health Service target time for non-urgent patients is 18 weeks. But about 250,000 non-urgent patients have waited for an extended period of time to receive treatment in hospitals run by the NHS, according to a BBC report.
Over 100,000 patients have waited for more than six months and about 20,000 have been waiting for at least a year, it has been revealed. The country has a size of 2.6 million patients in the waiting list, including non-emergency care patients.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has asked NHS authorities to bring down the number of such patients by about 50,000 by April 2012. A hefty fine will be imposed if hospitals do not help patients waiting for 18 weeks, he warned.
Lansley has blamed the previous Labour government which had created a "perverse incentive" whereby the NHS was free to leave patients "languishing" on waiting lists. "Because of Labour's perverse approach, the NHS actually had an incentive not to treat patients," he said.
"The new approach we will take from next year will clamp down on this practice. We will reduce the number of patients on hidden waiting lists, ensuring everyone gets access to the treatment they need," Lansley added.
Jo Webber, director of the NHS, has welcomed the government's intended proposals. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham also said that reforms are urgent but added that Lansley has failed to "get a grip" on waiting time.
"This will take us straight back to bad old days of the Tory NHS, where patients are forced to choose between waiting longer or paying to go private," Burnham said.