The backlog of people waiting more than two years for a routine operation has shrunk from 22,500 at the start of the year to fewer than 200.

NHS England figures show the number of patients waiting that length of time has shrunk to just 168, excluding more complex cases.

Health staff have been praised for carrying out the NHS elective recovery plan, published earlier this year to tackle backlogs built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the start of the year, more than 22,500 people had been waiting two years or longer for scans, checks and surgery.

A further 51,000 who would have passed the two-year mark by the end of July have also been treated, figures show.

Pancreatic Cancer UK pollAt the start of the year, more than 22,500 people had been waiting two years or longer (Peter Byrne/PA)

At the end of July, three NHS regions had no patients waiting two years or longer for routine care, with three other regions reducing the numbers to single figures.

This excludes more than 2,500 who are complex cases or chose to defer treatment.

Since the plan was published in February, more than 220,000 patients with Covid have been treated.

A record 6.6 million people are still waiting for hospital treatment, according to the BBC.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “It has only been possible because the NHS has continued to reform the way we deliver care, using innovative techniques and adopting pioneering technology like robot surgery, and through building new relationships and mutual aid arrangements across systems to offer patients the opportunity to be transferred elsewhere and get the care they need as quickly as possible.

“The next phase will focus on patients waiting longer than 18 months, building on the fantastic work already done, and, while it is a significant challenge, our remarkable staff have shown that, when we are given the tools and resources we need, the NHS delivers for our patients.”

NHS England national director Sir James Mackey said: “Reaching this milestone is testament to the hard work of NHS staff across the country, who have treated tens of thousands of the longest waits in the six months since we launched our ambitious recovery plan.

“From dedicated surgery hubs to increase the number of procedures carried out each day, to day case surgeries allowing people to recover in the comfort of their homes, and ensuring treatment transfers can happen for those patients prepared to travel, NHS staff are doing everything possible to bring down long waits for patients even further.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “This is testament to NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard to get us here – despite the significant challenges.”

The Government’s next agenda is to eliminate 18-month waits by April 2023.