The waiting list for hospital treatment will not start falling for two years, ministers say, despite unveiling a plan to tackle England's backlog in care.
There are currently six million people on a waiting list - one in nine of the population.
Currently, more than 300,000 people have waited this long (over 1 year), up from 1,600 before Covid hit.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that number was likely to go up because demand is predicted to start rising now Covid pressure is easing.
He also set out plans to reduce waiting times for cancer treatment.
This includes the introduction in March 2024 of a new 28-day target for cancer diagnosis that had been delayed by the pandemic - it should have been introduced last year.
And the numbers starting cancer treatment within 62 days would get back to its pre-pandemic performance by March 2023 - but that will still be some way short of the target that 85% of patients are seen within this timeframe.
The health secretary said that tackling waiting times in planned care and cancer services would be achieved through a 30% increase in the amount of treatment the NHS can do.
Crucial to this will be the network of 100 community diagnostic centers that are being set up along with surgical hubs that concentrate on high-volume routine surgery which can be done away from major hospital sites to increase efficiency and reduce the chance of emergency cases leading to cancellations.
The new facilities will be paid for by an extra investment of £8bn over the next three years, which is being funded through a hike in national insurance.
To help free up staff time, the plan said follow-up appointments will not be automatically made for all patients and instead these will be arranged on a case-by-case basis.
A new online service - My Planned Care - will also be launched that will provide patients with information about waiting times and how they can prepare themselves for treatment.
Mr. Javid said the plan would not just "reset" the NHS to where it was before Covid, but build on what had been learned and make it "fit for the future".
But he said it was likely the size of the waiting list would initially increase as the numbers being referred for care had dropped by around 10 million during the pandemic.
It is thought people have been deterred from seeking help for non-urgent care, which covers everything from knee and hip surgery to treatment to improve sight problems and joint pain.
He said the NHS was working on the basis half of these "missing patients" could come forward.
The health secretary also promised to eliminate long waits of over a year by 2025.
Currently, more than 300,000 people have waited this long, up from 1,600 before Covid hit.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the health service would be applying the same "can-do" spirit that it has displayed throughout the pandemic to tackle the backlog, but warned that "cannot happen overnight".
However, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Tories of "mismanagement" of the NHS, pointing out outperformance was declining before the pandemic.
And he added there was nothing about tackling the "single biggest challenge" facing the NHS - the lack of staff.
"There are 93,000 staffing vacancies in the NHS today. It is understaffed, overworked and if he's not careful, he will lose more people than he is able to recruit," he added.