Nearly half of all patients are currently being treated within 18 weeks, a target which was not expected to be achieved for another year and a half.
Statistics show that 48 per cent of patients are treated within 18 weeks of their initial referral by their GP, whereas in December 2006 just 35 per cent received treatment in this timeframe.
Health minister, Andy Burnham, said: "Today's figures show the NHS firmly on course to achieve the historic goal to end waiting in its 60th anniversary year.
"These statistics show we still have a challenge ahead of us to meet the highest standards, but overall they are hugely encouraging."
Nell Betteridge, chief executive of Arthritis Care, said: "Currently many people with long term conditions, such as arthritis, are in long queues and the wrong queues. That's why the government has set the 18 weeks target.
"For the first time in nearly 60 years, this initiative will tackle waiting times from the patients' perspective."