THE Trust which runs Andover and Winchester hospitals is on course to meet the 18 week waiting target.

This means that by the end of this year all patients should begin hospital treatment within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP.

Figures released last week show that the vast majority of people are already being treated within 18 weeks.

Statistics covering the waiting times of more than 1,000 patients who were treated in July show that an average of 92 per cent were treated within 18 weeks.

The shorter wait has won the praise of health minister Ben Bradshaw MP. He said: "Congratulations to Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust in its progress with meeting the 18 week target. This is a fantastic achievement by local NHS staff and managers."

Trust chief executive Martin Wakeley added: "We are rightly proud of our achievement. It is especially impressive because we have managed a 7 per cent increase in activity for a minimal extra cost of 3 per cent.

"The shorter waiting times are great news for local people and for those from further afield who choose to come here because we have cut the delay."

Mr Wakeley said the reduction had involved a major reorganisation of how services were managed and delivered.

"We have done so well because we have looked at all the different steps along the patient's path to treatment to find and eliminate delays," he said. "Improving access to diagnostics and increasing the efficiency of our operating theatres has helped our progress enormously.

"Providing treatment and procedures outside normal working times and ensuring patients can have more than just a consultation when they attend will continue to be a big focus for us."